My heart aches. In fact, it is breaking for our brothers and sisters in a little town in Texas right now. I’m sure most of you have heard by now of the most recent senseless shooting to take place in our country. This time, a church was targeted, and the casualties are staggering. At the time I am writing this, there are 26 confirmed dead, and around the same number injured. The age range of those killed seems to be from 5 years old and up (Now reports are saying the youngest death was 18-months). And why?
I don’t know exactly why this particular person decided to open fire at this particular church. But I do know the answer to ‘why’. We live in a broken world. We live in a world that is consumed by our sinful nature. We live in a world where we try to handle things on our own, leaving God out of the equation. The evidence of this is all around. Most recently in Las Vegas, New York City, and now, a small community in Texas just outside of San Antonio.
This tragedy has another answer to it as well. It’s not just because we live in a broken world. It’s because, as Christ followers, we will be persecuted. Things like this, while tragic, should not surprise us. I’m not condoning this type of action. Not by any means. But Jesus told us that the world would hate us because of Him. John 15:18 states,
‘If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.’
So how should we respond? We have to put our trust in Jesus. We need to invite God back into the equation. And we should treat those that hate us because we follow Christ with the love of Christ. Easier said than done. I get that. But that is the way we need to respond. Jesus said in the next chapter of John 16:33,
‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’
Pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ in Texas, and all those that have been hurt, whether physically or emotionally, by this senseless tragedy. Pray for the shooter’s family. Pray that Jesus may return soon. But also pray for ways that we can be a light in this dark and broken world. This side of eternity, there will be problems. There will be troubles. But we have Jesus’ promise and reminder that He has overcome the world!
It’s that time of year again. If you’re on any social media you know exactly what I’m talking about. November 1 rolls around every year and suddenly it seems that you can’t go ten minutes without someone you know posting what they are thankful for. Most that do this post one thing a day for the 30 days of November. Before I go any further, if you participate in this exercise I want to make this very clear; I am not saying that there is anything wrong with it. I actually enjoy reading what people post.
And I get why this is always done in November. We have a holiday called “Thanksgiving” during this month. We set this month aside to try and remember what we are thankful for, and that is a very much needed reminder in this world. There is so much wrong in the world today that we sometimes forget what we do have to be thankful for.
What I want to encourage you with, however, is we need to focus on what we have to be thankful for a lot more often than just the month of November. Especially as Christ followers. There is so much for us to remember. There is so much to be thankful for. Even when things are not going exactly the way we want them to or the way we think they should.
Paul, when writing to the Thessalonian church, put it this way;
“16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18)
In all circumstances. That seems really tough doesn’t it? Does that mean when a loved one is sick we should give thanks? What about when it’s a holiday and you’re not able to be with family? Or you’ve lost your job and you don’t know how you’re going to keep paying your bills? Or you just keep seeing more and more evidence that we live in a broken world? The answer is “YES!” In all circumstances. How do we do that?
The answer is right in front of us in the rest of what Paul has written here. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks…for this is God’s will for you. We are able to be thankful in all circumstance when we are able to focus on Jesus. By looking to Him in every situation, being in constant communication with Him (prayer), and realizing that if nothing else, we have Jesus Himself to be thankful for. Living as a Christ follower was never promised to be easy. Don’t ever make that mistake. But Christ did promise to always be with us. And He promised it would all be worth it in the end.
There is so much pain in this world. We live in a broken world because as human beings we have tried to do things on our own instead of looking to God. So here’s my challenge to you; Look for things to be thankful for all year long. There is nothing wrong with focusing on thankfulness during November, just don’t forget that we all have so much to be thankful for all year long. Even the trials and hard times that we face are things to be thankful for. I’ll leave you with this thought from James 1:
“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. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
I love Paul’s letter to the Romans. I find myself going back to it over and over again in my personal quiet times. There is just something about it that resonates with me. Recently, as I was reading, a thought stuck out to me, and I realized it is exactly why I do what I do. Before I get lost in that, let’s look at the section of Romans that I was reading through. Paul is making his plea for his fellow Israelites to come to faith in Christ. To be saved through the blood of Jesus. He wants to see them accept who Jesus is. Romans 10:11-13 reads;
11 For the Scripture says, Everyone who believes on him will not be put to shame, 12 since there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, because the same Lord of all richly blesses all who call on him. 13 For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (CSB)
Paul is telling us that there is no distinction between Jews and everyone else, which is great news for us. Salvation through Jesus Christ is open to all! And that was a hard lesson for those of Jewish backgrounds to accept. But Paul continues his argument, and it is the next few verses that really stuck out to me. Romans 10:14-17 reads;
14 How, then, can they call on him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about him? And how can they hear without a preacher? 15 And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news. 16 But not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, Lord, who has believed our message? 17 So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ. (CSB)
That’s why I do what I do. That’s why I write here on Thoughts from a Crosseyed Jesus Freak. That’s why I teach Sunday school, Bible study on Sunday evenings, and youth group for the teens on Wednesday evenings. That’s why I preach!
Jesus is our only hope!
This world needs Jesus. He is the only thing that can heal the brokenness of this world. Jesus is our only hope! And the world needs to hear about Him. Like Paul says, how can they call on Him if they haven’t believed? And how can they believe without hearing? And how can they hear without a preacher? God called me to preach His word. I didn’t choose this life. I accepted His call. And I don’t take that lightly.
There is nothing special about me. I’m an imperfect human being that tries his best to follow the call of God on his life. I’m not writing this post as a “look at me”. I’m writing this to remind us all that this world needs Jesus. He is our only hope. This world is broken and dying, and only in Jesus Christ, and His redemption of us on the cross, do we stand any chance.
So, if you are someone that Christ has called to preach His word, stand strong! And let me just say this. If you are a Christ follower, you have a story to tell. You might not be called to preach full time, but you can tell others about Jesus. You can show them that faith in Christ is the only way to navigate this world.
There is nothing special about the people who preach Christ. It is their message that is special. It is their message that is important. It is the gospel…the salvation offered to those that might give their lives to follow Jesus. That’s why I do what I do. Honestly, I could care less if anyone knows my name. It is my desire to step out of the way and let Jesus shine through me.
Every Sunday, those that lead our service where I serve gather to pray just before our worship service begins. It’s a practice that I started because I wanted us all to have our minds focused on God and glorifying Him. Part of my prayer is the same every time. “God, help us to lead well. Help us to step out of our own way, and let You shine through us. May it be your words that are heard this morning, and not ours. May everything we do this morning be for your glory”.
This world needs Jesus.
In other words, my prayer is always, “Help me to not make this about me. This is about You God, and You alone.” This world needs Jesus. There is no doubt about that to me. So, let me ask this. What are you doing to spread His word to those you come in contact with? Preachers, remember that it is not about us. It’s about pointing others to Him!
“He must become greater; I must become less.”
This quote is found in John 3:30, and is actually said by John the Baptist, referring to the person of Jesus Christ. I read this in my quiet time just recently, and it stood out. I was familiar with it before this, but for some reason it struck a chord with me in a great way this time.
John was the person that was sent ahead of Jesus to proclaim the coming of the Messiah. That is a very important job. It would be easy to think really highly of oneself when you are the one sent to proclaim that the Messiah is here. And people thought that John was either the Messiah or a great prophet of old. It would not have been hard for John to take some of that praise and the accolades that some were willing to give, and say, “I deserve this”.
But that is not what John did. In fact, he very straightforwardly stated that he was not the Messiah. In fact that happened in the same conversation where we see him saying “He must become greater; I must become less.”
It seems to be really easy these days to think more highly of yourself than you should. I know that’s a struggle of mine anyway. Preaching and teaching is something that I really enjoy, and God seems to have given me these things as strengths. And believe me, it would be really easy to start getting a little conceited about that.
What things are you really good at? Surely something comes to your mind when you read that question. But do you put those things in the proper place. That is where this conversation that the disciple John records about John the Baptist is so important for us. John the Baptist knew he had an important job, but the most important thing to him was showing Jesus for who He really was.
In other words, John the Baptist knew that the only thing that really mattered was Christ being exalted, even if that meant he was not as important as is human nature told him he was. And the same thing should be true for us. We should desire nothing above glorifying Christ. Use your gifts. Use them well. By all means. But do so not to exalt yourself, but to lift up Jesus Christ to others.
“HE MUST BECOME GREATER; I MUST BECOME LESS.”
May we all make that our goal in life.
Are we missing our mission? And by that I mean are we, as Christ followers, forgetting that our primary mission is to introduce others to Jesus? There is more to it than that as we grow, but if we try to make it as simple as we can, we should be living in such a way that we are able to share Jesus with other people.
Their acceptance or rejection of Jesus is then up to them. That’s not on us. But what is on us is sharing His love with all those that we can. As I look around our world today, however, I’m afraid that the answer to my first question is a resounding ‘YES’! We are missing our mission. But before I go any further, let’s take a look at some of Jesus’ last words, both before and after His crucifixion.
After washing His disciples’ feet and commanding them through His own actions to become servants, Jesus added what He called a “new command”. John records it this way in John 13:34-35:
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
People will know you are Christ followers by the way you love one another. That’s basically what Jesus is getting at here. Pretty simple. William Barclay, in his commentary on this passage added some good information. Jesus is calling His disciples to love each other as Christ has loved them. In other words, for us, it is a call to love those we come in contact with, especially other Christ followers, the way that Christ has loved us.
But how has Christ loved? Barclay added four ways that Christ has loved us; Selflessly, sacrificially, understandingly, and forgivingly. That’s how we are to love one another if we want to be known as His followers.
Then, on the mountainside after His resurrection, just before ascending to Heaven, Jesus leaves us with His final command. Matthew records it in chapter 28, and most of us know it as “The Great Commission”. These are His final words to His disciples, and it is a command that is passed to us as Christ followers. Verses 18-20 read:
18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Sharing Christ with others, making disciples, and baptizing them into Christ. That’s our mission. It’s not complicated, although, I think we make it complicated. One note, baptizing others is something we are commanded, and we get caught up on that, however, we miss another essential part of this command. Making disciples. That means helping others grow in their relationship with Christ. Christ followers make other Christ followers.
But back to my first question. Are we hitting this mission? Maybe to some degree, but I have to admit, my heart aches as I continue to watch Christians rip each other apart because they interpret passages from the Bible differently than one another. I am a part of a few different minister and restoration movement pages on social media. Instead of encouraging one another, what I see more often is attack after attack.
I’m all for a good debate. Debate is healthy. But what I see all too often is the attitude of “I am right and there is no room for anyone to disagree with me. If you disagree with me you are completely WRONG, and therefore are less of a Christ follower than I”. And let me just say this: I am sick of it.
Disciples make other disciples
We are called to make disciples. You can’t make disciples if you are not a disciple yourself. Disciples make other disciples or Christ followers make other Christ followers. Remember what Jesus said in John 13. I’m paraphrasing, “Love one another as I have loved you. By your love they will know you are My disciple”. How did Jesus love us? Selflessly, sacrificially, understandingly, and forgivingly.
What I am seeing from other Christ followers is anything but loving one another. And I’m talking to both sides of the debate. Most recently it has been over the topic of “women in leadership”. I’m not going to get into the debate. I’ve got friends and respected minds on both sides of the issue. For my purpose today, however, where you land on this topic is not the important part. It’s how you choose to present your interpretation.
We should be better than the world around us!
We focus so much on our differences. We are saturated by that in out culture today. It’s not just in the Church. But we should be better than the world around us! None of us are going to have it all figured out correctly. And we’re never going to agree 100% with anyone. But just because you disagree with someone doesn’t mean that you can just completely rip them apart either.
I’ll wrap up with this. Again, I’m talking to both sides of any debate, especially debates among Christ followers.
John 13:34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
*I am blessed to have the opportunity to write articles for our local newspaper from time to time. Below is the article that should be published in the Oct. 12 edition of the Canton Times.*
Where is God in all of this? You hear that question all the time, especially after something horrible takes place. You get a cancer diagnosis, a loved one dies, you lose a job that you really needed, or 59 people are tragically killed and over 500 are injured at a concert in Las Vegas. Another question that is often asked along the same lines is “How can you believe in God with all the pain, evil, and suffering in the world?”
I get it. Tragedy makes us stop and wonder. In fact, in response to the tragic events of Las Vegas, I posed this question question to the teens in our youth group this past week because they are going to hear questions like this as their friends discuss the broken world that we obviously live in.
The reason we live in a broken world is not because there is no God or that God has chosen to be absent. It is because He has decided to give us free will. Free will is what makes us human. We get to decide how we live our lives. It is through free will that we get to chose to love God. Without free will, our love for God would not be a real love. Think about it. If you are forced to love someone, is that real love? No.
But at the same time, because we have free will, we can choose to do something that harms ourselves or others. Free will led to Adam and Eve sinning in the Garden of Eden. Free will is what allowed Cain to kill his brother Abel over jealousy. But it was also free will that allowed Jesus to choose to go to the cross as payment for our sins.
Why does God allow events like Las Vegas to happen? Where was He? He loves us enough to give us free will because He wants our true love. Events like Vegas happen because we forget God. He doesn’t forget us. Where was He? You can see Him all around in the stories of people sacrificing their own safety in order to help one another.
Romans 8:28 reads, “28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” That doesn’t mean that He causes bad things to happen. But when bad things do happen, something good is always going to come out of them. We might not ever see the full effect, but all things are worked for the good of those who Love God.
We’ve been in Canton, OK for almost three weeks now. To say that it is a small town would almost be an understatement. When we decided to move here, I really believed that I would like it, but that it would take some time to adjust. I was a little off in my belief though.
I absolutely love it here. Living in a small town is different than most places I’ve been, but I feel right at home. It is amazing to me how this community is a true community. We watch out for one another. We speak to one another in town. It really seems that people genuinely care for one another.
Let me tell you about a couple of our experiences so far. There is a grocery store here in town, which means we don’t have to drive 30 miles to the nearest Walmart all the time. Kelley and I went shopping the other day to get some groceries. We were getting enough that we needed a buggy. When we got up to the checkout, there was a high school age girl working. She checked us out and then did something that completely blew my mind. She didn’t even ask. She picked up all our grocery bags and started out the door with them. The only question she asked was where we were parked.
I had never had that happen before. Most stores will help you take your things out if you ask, but this was different. I’ve been in a few other times to get a few things, and when I tell them that I can take my things out myself, they almost insist on doing it for you.
Yesterday was probably the most eventful day that we’ve had since the move. We had our normal church activities in the morning, went to lunch with a couple from the church, and then was back at the church by 2 for a retirement reception for the previous minister here. This was open to the entire community, not just those that attend church with us. And this community did not disappoint. For two solid hours people came and went, congratulating Steve and Betty, and welcoming Kelley and I to the community. And it didn’t matter if they went to church here or not, they were genuinely excited to meet us and welcome us.
Here’s my point. This is what true Christian community should look like. If you are a Christ follower, then we are all on the same team. It doesn’t matter if you go to the Christian Church, the Baptist Church, or whatever church. One of my favorite statements about the Restoration Movement is “We are not the only Christians, but we are Christians only.” We are all in this together, and in a small town in Oklahoma, I’m starting to see that actually play out. Is it perfect? No, because we are human and we will never reach perfection this side of Heaven. But when a Christian Church minister and a First Baptist Church minister can sit down with their spouses around a dinner table and talk for hours, I think we’re headed in the right direction.
You may have noticed that I have been unusually silent on Thoughts From a Crosseyed Jesus Freak. Life has been a little hectic to say the least over the last couple of months. With all the craziness, however, one thing has remained perfectly clear. God’s plan and timing so perfect, especially when we don’t understand exactly what is going on.
At the beginning of July, I was informed that my job in Carlsbad would be ending at the end of the month. Around the same time that that happened, I was contacted by two different churches asking me to come visit with them for potential preaching positions. We worked out the details to travel to these two church beginning in August and began fervently praying that God would open the doors to where He had in store for us next.
Well, God never disappoints. I knew that in my head, but I also knew that His timing is not always when we want things. I was preparing myself for the possibility that I would not step directly into another ministry position right away. But this time, God had different plans.
These past couple of months have been an whirlwind of emotion as we have said goodbye to friends and the town that we have called home for the last three years, and as we have moved to Canton, Oklahoma to begin preaching at Canton Christian Church. While I understand God’s faithfulness to us, I am absolutely blown away at how quickly He led us here to Canton. We arrived in town just under a week ago, and I preached this past Sunday to officially begin my ministry here.
I don’t know what you are going through. Times are tough and life has a way of throwing curve ball after curve ball at us. Don’t lose hope. God’s timing and plan is perfect. He has proven that to me over and over again. If you are going through something that you need prayer to help keep you focused on God, please reach out to me or someone else you trust. I would be honored to pray with and for you. Above all, never lose sight of the fact that God loves you! Life is never promised to be easy, but it is worth it when we follow Him with our whole lives.
As I get settled in here in Canton, I plan on trying to get back to regularly posting. I’ve missed writing the last couple of months as life has just been crazy. As my wife said after this past Sunday, “The best is yet to come!”
*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.