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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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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Community: Passionately Pursuing Jesus Together

A few days ago, I wrote about passions.  How as Christ followers, we should be passionate about following Him and carrying out our mission.  We can have other things that we are passionate about, but Jesus should be something that we undoubtedly have a passion in our souls for.  Around the same time, I came across an article that stated we should not rely on our passion for ministry, because passion can run out.  After reading the article in disbelief, I discovered that it was written by someone that I have never agreed with on anything that he has written, and his argument against passion is just added to the list.  Let me explain.

I do not mean to make lite of anyone’s profession when I say this.  But ministry and preaching every Sunday is not an easy thing to do.  If you haven’t done it personally, realize that you might just not understand what all goes into it.  And that’s fine.  Again, I’m not arguing that my job is any harder than anyone else.  But it is difficult.  And I don’t think I could do it week in, week out if God had not given me a passion for preaching His word.  That’s why I changed from Youth Ministry to Preaching, because God changed my passion.  I still really enjoy working with and being around teenagers.  But my passion is preaching His word week in and week out.  Without that passion for Jesus and for preaching His word, I don’t think I could handle all the demands that ministry and preaching have.

But that is not what I want to focus on in this post.  It was just something that got me thinking.  You see, in my last article about passion, I stated again that passion for Jesus and learning more and more about Him should be paramount.  I heard about a 12-year old this week that is doing just that, and it gave me a renewed hope.  Our Wednesday night Kid’s ministry lost one of our own a couple weeks ago.  His family moved out of state.  The last week he was here, we cancelled Adult Bible Study, and the Kid’s ministry along with myself threw him a going away party.  The teachers, on their own, got together and bought him a teen study Bible, we played games, and ate pizza.

My wife told me after this past Wednesday night that the Kid’s ministry must have really had an impact on our friend that left.  You see, the week before was spring break, and we don’t do any Kid’s programming that week.  But this past Wednesday, our friend who now lives in Michigan, called one of the teachers and asked if he could participate in the Bible lesson time over the phone.  Even better than that, we know that he was truly listening, as he was apparently answering questions after the lesson time.

Now, it is my heartfelt prayer that our friend can find a group to connect with in MI, not because we don’t want him in our group, but because he needs to be in a group that he can connect with face to face.  But the fact that he has been impacted enough to want to continue learning even over the phone is pretty incredible.  He has a passion building for Jesus in his heart, and it shows.

Passionately Pursuing JesusLet me ask you.  Do you have that kind of passion for Jesus that you would call so that you could be a part of a lesson?  Do you have a group of people that you have connected with so much that you would do anything you could to continue connecting with them?  That’s what the local church is supposed to be.  That’s why I love the idea of small groups, even if you’re in a church that could be classified as a small group itself. 

My wife and I have a group that meets at our house.  Right now, it’s just four of us, but we hope to expand that.  Actually, the prayer is that we can reach our neighbors through this group.  But for now, it’s just the four of us.  And I can tell you this.  I miss it terribly when something happens and we are not able to meet one week.  Sometimes we meet and just talk about life.  Other times we actually do a session of a Bible study.  Sometimes it’s both.  But here’s the thing.  We, as Christ followers, have been built to be in community.  And that community should be together more than just an hour or two on Sundays. 

Following Jesus passionately means finding a community of Christ followers to be connected with.  That’s why I have a passion for the local church as well.  The Church has a lot of flaws.  How could it not, it’s run on earth by flawed human beings.  But it is the Bride of Christ, and a community meant to help each other walk as Christ followers.  If you are in the Carlsbad area and don’t have a church that you gather with regularly, we would love to have you at Central.  If you are not in the Carlsbad area, please find somewhere that you can join a community of fellow Christ followers!

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A Light Shines in the Darkness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pressing On!

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

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

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

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

Much of this life is about perseverance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Unexpected Encouragement: God’s Perfect Timing

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

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

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

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

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

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(Left to right: Kelley, Me, Byron)

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

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

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

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

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

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Busyness as a Badge of Honor

I could not believe what I had just read.  In a lot of ways, I still can’t.  As I was getting ready for my day this morning, I was scrolling through Facebook on my phone, and an article popped up from “Church Leaders” that lead to the actual article hosted on churchplants.com.  They title of the article got my attention, but I never thought that it would actually read like it did.  The article was titled “Do Christians Spend Too MUCH Time Studying the Bible?” 

Do Christians Spend Too MUCH Time Studying the Bible?

I opened the article, fully expecting to read an argument for more Bible study, or maybe a little different approach to Bible study.  What I read, however, was an argument from a minister claiming that we study the Bible too much.  An argument that early Christians didn’t even have the Bible as we know it (which is true), and because of that, we shouldn’t waste as much time studying scripture as we do.  I’m still in shock over what I read.  If you’d like to read the article, you can find it here. Continue reading “Busyness as a Badge of Honor”

Do You Believe in Miracles

*Note: This is the article that is included in my previous post (Central Christian Church “Messenger”: March 2017 edition)

Just a few days ago, on February 22, 2017, there was a celebration of sorts.  What you may be asking?  It was the 37th anniversary of one of the greatest upsets in sports history.  On February 22, 1980, a group of amateur U.S. Hockey players went up against the USSR Hockey team that had been dominating the world over the previous 20 years.  In fact, just a few days before this battle took place, the two teams had met in an exhibition match at Madison Square Garden, and the Soviet team absolutely dismantled the overmatched Americans. 

This was all in the lead up to the Winter Olympics set to take place in Lake Placid, New York.  As fate would have it, the American team was set to play the Soviets in the semi-finals of the Olympic hockey tournament.  History was against them.  Not many gave them any chance.  This was a team that was filled with college hockey players going up against the professionals of the Soviets.  The stage was set, and if you know anything about sports history, you know this game as the “Miracle on Ice”. 

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Going into the final period, the Soviet team held a 3-2 lead.  It seemed that all they had to do was just hold on and they would be playing for the Gold Medal.  The U.S. team had other plans.  They came back and scored two third period goals to take a 4-3 lead.  The Soviet team threw everything they could at the Americans through the last few minutes of the game, but the American defense held strong. 

As the final seconds ticked away on the clock, the Americans possessed the puck, and it became clear that they would indeed preserve their lead.  The ABC network was broadcasting the game here in the States, with Al Michaels calling the game.  His call in the final seconds has become as iconic as the game itself.  As those final seconds ticked away, you can hear Michaels, “Do you believer in miracles?!”  And as the clock hit zero, he emphatically added, “Yes!”

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The “Miracle on Ice”.  It has been named the top sports moment of the 20th Century by Sports Illustrated.  But I think Michaels’ question at the end is an important moment for us as well.  “Do you believe in miracles?”  That was his question about one of the most unlikely upsets ever in the sports world.  I want to ask you the same question, but not about sports. 

“Do you believe in miracles?”  I mean real miracles that we read about in scripture.  The healings that have no explanation.  People being raised from the dead.  A man walking on water.  Feeding of thousands upon thousands of people with just a handful of food.  Water being turned into wine.  A man beaten so badly that he couldn’t be recognized and then hung on a cross until he died, coming back to life three days later.  These are the miracles I’m asking if you believe in.

Jesus’ entire ministry as a human was backed up by miracles.  He healed the sick, raised the dead, fed thousands with nothing, knew the hearts of those around Him, and willing went to the cross for our sins, trusting the Father to raise Him from the grave three days later.  And that doesn’t even go into all the miracles that we see throughout the Old Testament and in the beginning of the Church after Jesus’ ascension to the Father.  Those miracles do two things.  First, it shows us God’s power.  Second, they were there to give authority to those speaking; to prove that they had something worth listening to. 

Many people try to explain away the miracles that we read about throughout scripture.  It’s just too hard for them to believe that these things happened.  If you are a Christ follower, and don’t think that these miracles actually happened, how big is the God that you claim to follow?  These miracles show us the power of our God. 

DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES?!

The “Miracle on Ice” was just a sporting event.  In the grand scheme of things, it is not really that miraculous.  If you don’t know the history of the game, however, I want to let you know that the Americans did back up this victory and go on to win the Gold Medal against Finland after the miracle on ice game.  Jesus went on to back up His miracles as well.  Coming out of that tomb three days after being crucified, He backed up not only everything that He had taught, but everything He had done as well.  God proved who Jesus was, and that our salvation would be secure in Him through the Resurrection.  So let me ask you this: DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES?!  I hope you can answer “YES!”

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