Thoughts From That Other Jesus Freak

*Yesterday, I posted an article that I had written as a guest post for a friend of mine.  He has written a guest post for Thoughts from a Crosseyed Jesus Freak, and I am excited to share his words with you today.  Peter writes at https://www.onlyopendoor.com/ about the Church and why we need to be involved.  He’s also the youth minister at First Christian Church in Lovington, NM and in his own words is, “That Other Jesus Freak”.*

My 15th birthday was a day of joy and total sorrow. Just like any other birthday, I got to choose a friend to join me and my family for dinner at a restaurant of my choice. After dinner, I was told we would take my friend home, then head home for a bit before anyone was allowed to do anything that evening. It was then that my parents sat my brothers and I down in the living room. I knew something was up, we never met this way. That evening, my parents broke the news that my father only had months to live.

Years later, I had the opportunity to become a youth pastor in Arizona. I was fresh out of college, well, I was 26 at the time I graduated, and this was my first chance to work in the ministry. I was excited and scared to be moving from Minnesota to Arizona. Things started off so well, but they didn’t end up that way. After only months, I started to feel the negative attitude of some in the church, and it never really got any better, which ultimately led to my negative departure.

These stories are not meant to depress you or make you feel sorry for me. I share these stories because as a Jesus Freak, I feel the need to share the positive side of these negative stories. You see, God answers all our prayers. You might be thinking, you prayed that God would take your father? That would be insane. I prayed for my father to be healed. I prayed to be able to do God’s work and to grow in my own spiritual walk. God’s answer is not always the one we want though.

You see, my father was healed. He was a Christ follower, and I truly believe that he has a new body, free of tumors, in heaven. Not exactly the healing I wanted at the time. I also would have loved to continue working with the students I had in Arizona, but God wanted me to take some time away from ministry to grow personally before landing me in New Mexico as a youth pastor once more.

There will be trials in our lives, especially if we choose to follow Jesus Christ. It isn’t an easy life to be a true Christ follower. If it were easy, there would be more people that would give up the things this world offers to follow Christ. There will be tough times ahead.

But we can have comfort in Christ through these tough times!

John 16:33 “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.” (CSB)

Being courageous is sometimes easier said than done. It is not easy to be courageous when you are faced with uncertainty and loss. But Jesus also tell us this in Luke 12:25-26

“Can any of you add one moment to his life-span by worrying? 26 If then you’re not able to do even a little thing, why worry about the rest” (CSB)

We cannot live our days worrying about what will come. We MUST learn to trust that God will provide us with what we need. When the times are tough, call on Him. When things are going well, thank Him. Don’t worry about what the world will think of you when you follow Christ.

“I don’t really care if they label me a Jesus Freak, there ain’t no disguising the truth.”

Thoughts from that other Jesus Freak, Peter Wernimont.

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Make It Your Own

*This post originally appeared on my friend Peter’s new blog here.  Check it out and follow his work there.*

CHRCHPeter asked me to write a guest post for his new blog.  It’s been great getting to know him over the last few months since he moved to New Mexico.  We’ve collaborated on a lot of stuff for Guadalupe Christian Camp, and he is the only other person I know with a “Jesus Freak” tattoo.

I’m a lot like Peter in how he described his experience growing up in the church.  My grandparents weren’t in ministry like his, but I grew up basically in the church anytime the doors were open.  And that was great.  I love that I grew up that way, but I came to a point in my life that I walked away from the Church.  Here’s some things I’ve learned from and about my experience of walking away.

I used an excuse of something I was frustrated about to justify walking away.

During my time in youth group, I was all in.  I was a leader in the group, especially in the last two or three years of high school.  It was that youth group that helped me through the death of my father as a fifteen year old.  One of the main things that we fought hard for during my time was a united group.

As we entered the youth group as seventh graders, it became pretty apparent that there were some major cliques in the group.  The students in the class before me and my class fought very hard to dispel the cliques, and try to be as united of a group as we could be.  Not trying to brag, but I feel that we did a pretty good job of that.  We tried to be friends with everyone in the group, and hang out with everyone as much as possible. 

After graduating high school and moving to the college age Sunday school class, however, I found out real quick that those cliques had reformed there.  Instead of trying to get rid of the cliques, I used them as an excuse to start slowly walking away from the Church.  There were other subconscious factors that lead to this as well, so I used it as an excuse.  It started as just missing Sunday school, but slowly and surely it go to the point I would miss a Sunday altogether.  And then the next thing I knew, I was skipping multiple Sundays and using my job as an excuse.

I thought it was possible to be a Christ follower on my own.

I convinced myself through this whole thing that I could maintain my relationship with Christ on my own.  I didn’t need to be going to church every week.  I was planning on going into ministry any way, so I was in a good place.  Pay attention to this section if you don’t pay attention to anything else.  I was dead wrong.  One thing I have figured out in my life is that God created us to be in community with Him…and with fellow Christ followers.  Christianity is not a path that can be easily walked without love, support, and accountability from a community of other believers.  It just can’t happen.

The more I tried to follow Jesus on my own without that community, the more I just started really going through the motions of my belief and faith.  When I ended up going to Bible College a couple of years later, that translated into just having fun and not taking my faith, or my studies seriously.  Here I was, living on campus surrounded by fellow Christ followers, but I was still just pretending and going through the motions.  You cannot follow Christ on your own…at least not very well.

The longer I was away, the harder it was to go back.

I think subconsciously I started realizing this, but I had walked away from a true Christian community for a few years now.  A simple turn back to God was all that was needed.  Think of the story of the Prodigal son.  God is ready to run to us when we finally take a step back toward Him.  But it’s not always easy to get to a place where you are ready to take that step.

Pride in trying to do it all on my own was a huge stumbling block.  Again, I really think I saw what was happening, but I thought that I could fix it on my own.  I had this.  I could come back anytime I wanted to.  But the longer I was away, the more pride got in my way.  It’s hard to stand up and admit, even to God, that you’ve messed up. 

It wasn’t until a relationship ended in a very hurtful way that I truly began to wake up, to realize that I desperately needed God and a strong Christian community to truly live out my faith.  But I also realized something that would really change everything for me…

My faith was not my own…yet.

I realized that the faith that was so strong even through my youth group years wasn’t really my own.  I had been raised to believe in Jesus, to know the Bible stories, to go to Church, and all of those things are great.  There is nothing wrong with any of it.  But at some point, you have to take that faith that your parents instilled in you, and it has to become your own.

I was baptized because all my friends were getting baptized.  It was just the natural thing to do.  I loved God, don’t get me wrong, but I was living on a faith that was given to me by my parents and my friends.  And that’s a good starting place.  You just can’t stay there the rest of your life and truly live the way that God is calling you to.  It has to mean something to YOU…not for someone else, but for you. 

There is a passage in Mark 8 where Jesus is talking to His disciples.  He asks them the question “Who do the crowds say that I am?”  They respond, “Some say Elijah, others John the Baptist, still others a prophet.”  And those were good answers.  They were putting Jesus up there with some of the heroes of Hebrew history.  But that’s not who Jesus really was.  He then turned the question from who the crowd thought He was to the disciples.  “Who do you say I am?!”  Peter spoke up and gave the first confession of faith.  He said “You are the Christ!”

When we are living by someone else’s faith, even if they are correct in their understanding, we can be like the crowds.  Jesus is important.  No doubt about it.  But He may not be seen as Lord of our lives.  We have to answer Jesus’ second question.  It’s not one that He just asked the twelve disciples 2,000 years ago.  He is asking us as well.  Who do you say that Jesus is?  Until we view Jesus as the true Lord and Savior of our lives, and therefore put Him in the proper place in our lives, we will not be living our own faith.  If we are not living our own faith yet, then it’s easy to make excuses and not gather with other Christ followers.  That’s why the percentage of people who claim to be Christians and the percentage of people who are actually active in Church is so drastically different.

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Kraig Birchfield is the main author on crosseyedjesusfreak.com.  You can check out more of his articles there.  He is first and foremost a Christ follower.  He is a husband to Kelley, a writer, preacher, and a Crosseyed Jesus Freak.

Defending the Faith Conference

--How do you stand up for truth in a word gone mad--

I wrote a bit of a teaser for it yesterday, but as promised, I want to tell you about Guadalupe Christian Camp’s upcoming “Defending the Faith Conference”.  This is the first annual apologetics conference that the camp is going to be hosting on July 29-31, and I would absolutely love for you to join us.  Let me get some housekeeping issues out of the way.  If you are interested, make your plans now, because there are only a few days left for the early bird rate of $45 per person.  After July 3, the price goes up to $55 per person.  All you need to do to register is to contact David Shaw at dcshaw529@gmail.com, letting him know how many will be joining your party.  Then you pay when you get to the camp on Saturday. 

How do you stand up for truth in a world gone mad?!

So let me pose a question.  “How do you stand up for truth in a world gone mad?!”  That’s exactly the question that we are going to be trying to walk through during the main sessions and the Q&A times throughout the event.  And that is one of the most important and relevant questions that we as Christ followers need to answer in our own lives.  We have to be ready to give a defense of our faith at a moments notice.  That doesn’t mean that we have to have all the answers.  That would be impossible.  But we need to be prepared.  In fact, Paul challenges Timothy with that specifically.  In II Timothy 4:2-4, Paul writes the following to Timothy;

2 Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching. 3 For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear what they want to hear. 4 They will turn away from hearing the truth and will turn aside to myths.

Verses 3 and 4 sound like Paul was looking directly into our time.  There is no absolute truth anymore, according to the society we live in.  There are many ways to God, and the fact that Christianity claims to be the only way to God is insensitive…or at least that’s what the world around us is screaming at the top of its lungs.  All paths lead to God.  Well, if you are a Christ follower, then you know that that is not what Jesus taught.  Jesus made a very bold claim in John 14:6-7.  He said;

6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you know me, you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Like I said, that is a bold claim.  But Jesus backed that claim up by going to the cross and God raising Him from the dead.  We have to stand firm.  We have to be bold.  We know the truth: Jesus is the only way to God.  But we have to speak that truth in love.  That’s what we are going to be discussing in this inaugural event held at Guadalupe Christian Camp.  I, along with three other area preachers, will be presenting on a variety of different topics.  Stephen B, a Christian comedian will also be there on Saturday night presenting his comedy routine.  This promises to be a great weekend, and we would love to have you join us.  The camp is located at 56 Christian Camp Road, Carlsbad, NM  88220, about an hour outside of Carlsbad. 

Let’s come together, and answer the question.  “How do you stand up for truth in a world gone mad?!”

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Refreshed and Refocused

I’ve been absent for a little while.  My apologies for that.  But I was working a week of church camp last week at Guadalupe Christian Camp for Jr. and Sr. High students.  While I had access to internet there, I felt my time was more valuable investing in the week there instead of trying to write for “Thoughts From a Crosseyed Jesus Freak”.  I mean, I had to write a sermon while I was there anyway, so I didn’t take anymore time for this.

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It was a great week.  We had 38 teenagers and quite a few adults from West Texas and Southeast New Mexico that attended the week, and I do believe that lives were changed.  We had a speaker from Illinois that blew it out of the water, as well as a Christian band from El Paso that was just as interested in investing in the lives of the teens there as they were about playing music for the evening sessions. 

We got to get away from our normal hectic schedules and spend time with fellow Christ followers, up on a mountain, away from distractions.  Although it was a scorching hot week, we were able to enjoy God’s creation together in a few different ways as well.  One of those was spending time at Sitting Bull Falls, hiking and swimming one afternoon (the temperature gauge in the van I drove read 108 degrees when we parked at the falls).  On Friday morning, we went on the annual hike to the ridge that has quickly become one of my favorite places that I have seen in person on this earth. 

As tired as I have been since returning, the physical exhaustion has been well worth it.  I came back mentally, emotionally, and spiritually refreshed.  That’s something that I’ve needed for a long time.  I got to spend time with other ministers, discussing our churches and what things we need prayer and support in.  Just bouncing ideas off of others is so beneficial.  I got to have some good laughs with the other adults there as well.

One thing happened on two separate nights, however, that may top any camp experience I have ever had.  Well, not really because I received my call into ministry at a week of camp, but this was awesome anyway…just not on the exact same level.  On Thursday night, we were having a camp fire/smores night, and a couple of the band members were there playing acoustic guitars.  The night was coming to an end, and I jokingly asked the lead band member if he knew “Jesus Freak” and explained my website.  They didn’t know the song by memory, but looked up the chords and started playing.  That is when a bunch of the other adults and I started singing our lungs out to an impromptu jam session of “Jesus Freak”.  It was incredible.

Then, the next night at worship was supposed to be more of a concert style worship with the band.  Wally told me early that night that he was going to call me from the sound booth to come up to the stage to help him with something, but that it was for the kids.  I asked what, but he wouldn’t tell me.  When he finally called me up, he handed me a mic and said they were going to play “Jesus Freak”.  I got the other guy at camp with a Jesus Freak tattoo to join me on stage, handed him the mic, because I don’t sing into mics, and we got to sing on stage to a live version of “Jesus Freak”.  As you could imagine, this Crosseyed Jesus Freak was flying high after that.

It just reminds me of where our focus should be though.  Where does your passion lay?  This world tries to distract us, but if I’m going to claim to be a Crosseyed Jesus Freak, I need to be focused on Jesus 100% of the time…or at least as much of that time as I can be.  We have to be strong in our faith.  That’s why this event that I want to tell you about is so important. Guadalupe Christian Camp is getting ready to host its First Annual “Defending the Faith Conference” at the end of July.  Check back here tomorrow for an article about that, but if you are in southeast New Mexico or west Texas, consider joining us for this conference.

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Betrayal

I was texting with a friend of mine back east this week.  I hadn’t had a chance to check in with her in a few weeks, and I could just sense something was wrong through some things on social media.  So I checked in on her.  I asked if everything was ok.  She had recently started dating someone, and I just had the sense that something bad had happened to that relationship.  And unfortunately I was correct.  He had ended the relationship with my friend, and she felt betrayed.  Her heart was broken, and she was still processing what was going on. 

We didn’t have a lot of time to chat at the time, but the whole situation got me thinking about betrayal.  I don’t know what it is, but there is just something in human nature that seems to make us betray one another.  If you have never faced the betrayal of another human being, I would count you very fortunate.  Even Jesus Himself was betrayed.  And that betrayal came from one of His twelve closest companions over the last three years of His life. 

My heart hurts for my friend.  She deserves so much better than what happened.  But the fact remains that we all face betrayals from time to time.  That doesn’t make it any easier to process them when they happen though.  Whether it’s a significant other turning their back on you, a friend spreading a rumor about something that you told them in confidence, a co-worker stabbing you in the back to get ahead, or whatever other betrayals you could imagine, being betrayed hurts.

Betraying others hurts as well.  And whether we want to admit it or not, as much as we have faced betrayals from others, we have probably betrayed someone ourselves at some point. Whether we wanted to or not.  That doesn’t make it right, but that is the reality of sin.  It makes this world that we live in broken.  And broken people treat each other horribly at times.  That’s where God’s grace comes in.  Through a relationship with Him, through the blood of Jesus, we can set aside that human nature, and strive to treat each other with love and respect. 

God will never leave us or abandon us.

That doesn’t mean that we will never sin or mess up again.  Of course we will, because we live in a broken world.  But that is no longer our default setting if we have truly given our lives to Jesus in being a Christ follower.  People are going to betray each other, and that hurts.  Pretty much everyone of us knows that firsthand.  But here is the best news of all.  God will never leave us or abandon us.  He will never betray us.  The author of Hebrews puts it this way in Hebrews 13:5; “Keep your life free from the love of money. Be satisfied with what you have, for he himself has said, I will never leave you or abandon you.”  He is quoting a passage from Deuteronomy 31, where God promised that He would never abandon His people.

Put your trust in God.  Give your life to Him.  Life will always be tough.  We will mess up, and we will hurt one another.  But we have a promise from God that He will never betray us!

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Marriage is Not a Competition

I’m not the perfect husband.  In fact, I get marriage wrong more than I would like to admit.  I love my wife, but there are times that I don’t treat her as well as I should.  But I’m trying to get better.  I’m trying to love her with the love that she deserves.  I want to have the strongest marriage possible.  In other words, our marriage is a work in progress.  Most are.  I’m not a marriage expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m trying to be the best partner I can be for my wife.

I write that to get to this.  We have seriously got to change our attitude, thoughts, expectations, and even our jokes about marriage in this country.  This is especially true if you are a Christ follower.  I almost wrote this post a couple of months ago, but decided not to at the time.  I can’t sit silent any longer.  We have an incorrect view of what marriage should be.  It’s a partnership in life and love, but most of the time you hear it talked about as a competition.  Who gets the most out of it, and if you’re not the one winning, what do you need to do to get what you deserve? 

At least that seems to be the attitude that is most prevalent in our society today.  Let me give you an example.  This is what finally pushed me over the edge to write this post.  I came across this picture the other day on social media.  It reads, “Marriage is simple. Your wife does whatever she wants and you do whatever she wants.”

Marriage, really?

Really?  That’s what we think about love and agreeing to spend the rest of our lives with someone anymore?  And it’s not just this one picture or thought floating around out there.  It is hammered down our throats everywhere we look.  There is a winner and a loser in marriage relationships.  Fights are normal.  Make sure you win, no matter the cost.  There is an episode of the sitcom Friends that shows this same thought process.  Monica and Chandler are discussing something, and Chandler thought they had already come to a decision.  Monica, however, makes another decision.  Chandler responds with something like, “but we’ve already discussed this and I won.”  Monica’s response is the attitude I’m talking about here.  She says, “…and now that you’re marrying me, you don’t get to win anymore.”

Like I said earlier, I’m not a marriage expert, but that attitude is not healthy.  I know that most would argue that the picture above is something that was done as a joke.  I would agree, at least I would like to think that.  But even if that is the case, it eventually leads to a misperception about marriage.  If you joke about something long enough and to enough people, you start to believe it, even if you never intended to in the first place.  And the real issue is that a fellow Christ follower is the one that posted the picture.  That’s not the Biblical picture of what marriage should be. 

The same day I saw the pic above, I found what follows (shared by the same person).  You see the difference right?  Like the description says, it’s not about control.  It’s about respect.  Mutual respect.  No one partner any more important than the other.  A true partnership.  There may be different roles in a marriage, but it should be a true partnership. 

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That’s what I see when I read the instructions for marriage throughout the New Testament.  It’s not about the man being the dominant partner.  It’s not about the woman being the dominant partner either.  It’s about a true partnership.  Let me share this with you.  This is part of a wedding ceremony that I did last year.  Names have been removed for privacy.  It starts with a reading of Ephesians 5:21-33.

Let’s take a look at what Paul writes about marriage in his letter to the Ephesians.  Reading from chapter 5:21-33;

21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Over the years, this passage has been taken out of context and been used to say only that women should submit to men.  But there is something so beautiful in this passage when you realize that Paul is actually giving equality to men and women in marriage.  During the time of Paul, women were considered little more than property, so when Paul turned around and said that husbands were to love their wives as Christ loves the church, that was a radical new idea. 

So, Groom, while it is true that Bride is encouraged to follow your lead, you are encouraged to love her sacrificially, putting her wants and needs in front of your own.  You are encouraged to care for her.  You are encouraged to love her with an unbreakable and unending love.  And you are encouraged to love her in Christ.

Bride, the same can be said for you.  You are encouraged to love Groom sacrificially, putting his wants and needs in front of your own.  You are encouraged to care for him.  You are encouraged to love him with an unbreakable and unending love.  And you are encouraged to love him in Christ.

Marriage is not a competition between two people, and when we treat it like it is, even in a joking manner, we make a mockery of what God intended to be a life partnership.  One that He uses to also describe the relationship that He wants with us.  Christ followers, stop falling into the trap that society is perpetuating.  Marriage is a beautiful thing.  It is God-honoring when done correctly.  We are to be helpmates to one another in our marriages, not fighting against each other to see who can “win”.  When that is what we focus on, neither partner truly wins.  It’s a loss across the board.

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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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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”

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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