Where Was God?

*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.

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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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You Are Enough

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Darkness Between Friday and Sunday

Darkness.  All of a sudden there was a darkness that just kind of spread over the land.  But it couldn’t be.  It was still midday.  How was it dark?  There was a major storm brewing that just came out of nowhere.  What was going on?  There was a sense of fear that was spreading through the crowd that was wandering the streets.  We had watched a few hours before, hiding in the distance, as our friend and leader, a man we knew as Jesus, was forced to carry His cross through the streets of Jerusalem.

Though we wanted to support Him, we were also afraid of being arrested for being His followers, so most of us had stayed hidden, watching the events since they arrested Him in the garden from a distance.  But now, we knew that He had been led outside of the city, carrying His own cross to be crucified.  And now this storm was brewing.  There was just an eerie feeling over the city.  What was going on?  This was supposed to be a great time of celebration as we were gathered in Jerusalem to observe the Passover.  How had things gotten this out of hand that one of our own number had betrayed our friend?

Then, just as suddenly as the storm came upon the city, the ground began to shake violently.  The sky grew even darker, as if the sun had been extinguished.  None of us had experienced anything like it.  As we asked others what was going on, we found out two things.  One, our friend and leader had taken His last breath on the cross just before the ground began to shake.   Two, inside of the city, in the very heart of the Temple, the veil keeping us out of the presence of God was torn in two from top to bottom.

Now here we are on Saturday, unsure of what any of this means, but missing our friend that we have spent the last three years following, witnessing all of His miracles and His teachings.  What is to become of us now?  We thought He was here to free us from Rome, but the Pharisees and the Romans just combined forces and had him crucified.  He was laid in a borrowed tomb, but it was so close to the Sabbath that we were not even able to properly prepare His body for burial.  Some of the women that are with us are planning a trip to the tomb tomorrow to take care of the preparations.  Even though the sun shines again, there just seems to be a darkness that is over us right now.  It can probably be chalked up to our despair…

Hopefully you know the rest of the story.  The women did go to the tomb the next morning, and found it empty.  Jesus then began appearing to His followers, proving to them that He had miraculously risen from the grave!  And that is what we celebrate on Easter.  It’s not about Easter eggs, bunnies, and chocolate.  None of that is bad.  But it is truly about God in the flesh, living a perfect live, and willingly sacrificing Himself on the cross for our sins.  There was darkness and despair between Friday and Sunday as it seemed death had won.  But Jesus defeated death, once and for all, when God raised Him from the grave.  That’s what Easter is really all about.  That’s what being a Christ follower is really all about.  Happy Easter everyone!

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Not a Joke

April Fool’s Day.  It’s actually one of my favorite days of the year.  I can be a very sarcastic (sometimes too sarcastic) of a person, so a day set aside to pull pranks on each other is just a fun day.  Actually, I haven’t pulled an April Fool’s Day prank in recent history that I can remember.  But it is still fun to watch others try to figure out if you are going to do something or not.  It’s also fun to watch other pranks being pulled (mostly on television or the internet).

As I was trying to figure out what to write this article about this week, it occurred to me that it would run on April 1.  And that made me think of a great analogy with Easter Sunday on its way as well.  From today, Easter is in two weeks and a day.  Before I go any further, I want to extend another invitation to join us at Central Christian Church on April 16.  We would love to have you celebrate Easter with us.

But what about that first Easter morning?  The one that we gather to celebrate every year (and some every day).  Could you imagine something like that happening in today’s society?  An empty tomb.  A claim of a resurrection.  The Son of God in the flesh, living as a human being, killed, buried, and then suddenly appearing again would have most of us looking around for the hidden cameras.  We would just be waiting for someone to come around the corner, yelling “April Fool’s!”  Or if it wasn’t April Fool’s Day, a simple “I got ya!”

But that’s not what happened.  It wasn’t a prank.  It wasn’t a joke.  Jesus was crucified.  He was beaten beyond recognition.  And He died on the cross.  But He did it willingly.  No one forced Him to do it.  He did it of His own free will.  Why?  Because He loves you.  He did it to pay the price for each and every one of us because we could never cover the debt of our own sin sufficiently.  Only His perfect blood could do that.  Jesus says in John 10:14-15;

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (Emphasis mine)

Three days later, He arose from the grave.  God the Father raised Him back to life to finish the promise of Jesus’ sacrifice.  There were some that thought this was all an elaborate prank.  Especially the chief priests and the teachers of the law.  They made the claim that Jesus’ disciples stole His body.  But that’s not what happened.  I don’t have a lot of space left to go into detail, but let me give you some evidence that Jesus really did come back from the dead.

First, women were the first one’s to claim that they saw Jesus after the resurrection, and they found the empty tomb.  If you were going to try to fake something like this, women would have been the last one’s that you would want “finding the empty tomb”.  In the culture they lived in, women were little more than property and they would not be believed as quickly as men would have been.

Second, all but one of the disciples, whom people claim stole the body to fool others, died horrible martyr’s deaths.  All they had to do to escape these deaths was to denounce their belief in Jesus, and they would have been spared.  If they had stolen the body, they would have known that Jesus was a fake, and I highly doubt eleven men would go to a martyr’s death willingly for what they knew to be a lie.

There are other evidences as well, yet I run out of space.  My invitation to have coffee with you and discuss further still stands.  Contact me at kraig@crosseyedjesusfreak.com.

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The Most Intriguing Stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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When Relationships Drift

Last week, I was sitting in my office working on my sermon and something happened.  Usually if I am working, I have music going.  It helps me focus for some reason.  Dead silence allows my mind to wander in a hundred different directions.  That, or I find myself nodding off to sleep even if I am not really tired at the moment.

So, back to the story.  I have music going and a song comes on that I know by heart.  It’s one that I have heard and sung countless times.  But it is also one that every once in a while, I remember exactly where I was the first time I heard the song and what I was doing.  This particular time, it made me flash back to the first time, and remember a friend that because of distance in miles and just differences in life have caused us to drift apart. 

And this is a close friend.  He was the best man in my wedding for crying out loud, and I could not tell you the last time I even spoke to him, or even texted him.  He played the song in question the first time I ever heard it, and it was that memory that came flooding back when I came through my speakers last week.  I stopped what I was doing and immediately texted my friend 1,400 miles away, telling him that I head the song, it made me think of him and the first time he introduced to it at a week of church camp, and that I missed him. 

It is funny (in a sad way) to me how we let close friends slip away sometimes.  Yes, this particular friend lives back in Tennessee, so we are separated by 1,400 miles and two time zones.  But with today’s technologies of cell phones, social media apps, and e-mail, the drifting of friendships really boils down to a lack of commitment on one or both parties. 

In other words, we let life get in the way, and someone we were once really close to, we realize that we have not spoken to them in years.  My fear (and realization) is that we do this with God as well.  Life gets in the way, we get busy, and before we know it, it has been days, weeks, months, or maybe even years since we have spoken with Him.  We have drifted in our relationship with Him, and that closeness we once had when we first started the relationship has slipped away.

And it is all on us.  We are the ones that have the lack of commitment because we let life get in the way.  My guess is we never even meant to, but it just happened.  But here is the great thing.  We have even better tools than technology to rekindle this relationship.  We do not need a cell phone, social media apps, or e-mail.  We have prayer, and we have God’s word at our fingertips in the form of a Bible.  He is there, waiting for us to communicate with Him again, but we have to be willing to reach out to Him.  Pray.  Read your Bible.  Recommit to working on a relationship with Him, the most important relationship you could ever have.

Thoughts From a Crosseyed Jesus Freak

Life on Mission (1-21)

Have you ever asked the question, “What is my purpose in life?”  Or maybe you have asked what you mission in life is.  That is a common question, but there does not seem to be an easy answer to that question sometimes.  If you are a Christ follower, however, the answer to those questions becomes a little easier to answer.  Unfortunately, even as a Christ follower, we can get distracted and not realize that we have a mission in this life.

That is why we are starting a new series this Sunday at Central Christian Church, called Life on Mission.  It is based off of a book by the same name, written by Tim Harlow.  In his book, he lays out a very simple premise.  Basically, Harlow says that if you are a Christian (or Christ follower), you have a mission in this life.  But it is up to you whether you accept it or not. 

What is our mission?  It is simply building relationships in the community, in an effort to earn the right to tell others about who Jesus is.  In Acts 1:7-8, 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 

Jesus stated that we would be His witnesses.  A witness is simply someone who observes something, and then tells other people about what they saw.  The problem is that we take another message from Jesus and think if we are going to tell others, we have to go somewhere overseas.  Matthew 28:19-20 states, 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.”

Yes, there are some people that might be called to go overseas to spread the name of Jesus, but we are all suppose to spreading the name of Jesus somewhere.  Take the passage from Acts above.  Jesus said that we would be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  In other words, we need to start in our own back yard.  Our community here in Carlsbad become our “Jerusalem” if you will. 

We all have a mission in life.  Are you going to choose to accept or ignore the mission as a Christ follower?  Join us at Central Christian Church as we dig into this series over the next six-weeks.

Thoughts From a Crosseyed Jesus Freak

Make Some Changes (12-31)

As we are closing out 2016 and entering the brand new year of 2017, I have been thinking a lot about new starts.  It is no secret that 2016 has been a year of turmoil, and I think we can all agree that we hope for a better 2017 all around.  Just as every other year, as we close out one year and jump into the next, people everywhere are talking about their New Year’s Resolutions.  Whether it be getting healthier with eating habits and exercise (I really need to get back to the gym), trying to be better with your finances, improving your relationships, or whatever else you can think of, New Year’s Resolutions are very popular.

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The frustrating thing for me, however, is that no matter what resolutions I try to make, they never seem to last past February (sometimes not even that long).  My guess is that you can relate.  Think about it.  Gyms are packed in January, but over the next month or so, space frees up more and more, because people just drop out.  Why?  Why do we make these resolutions to make major changes in our lives at the start of a new year, and then not follow through? 

Do not get me wrong here.  I am not arguing against making resolutions.  What I am getting at, however, is that we may need to make some changes in why and how we make those resolutions so we can finally stick with them.  In all honesty, we need a change in perspective in how we see the world and our motivation in doing anything. 

We make these resolutions because we want a better life.  We want to lose weight, get out of debt, have better relationships, or advance in our careers by strengthening our work ethic.  None of those things are bad.  In fact, you could argue that they are really good things.  But if your motivation is only about being a better version of yourself so that you feel better about yourself, then that may be why we fail at sticking to the changes we set out to make.  Think about it.  If you are making changes for selfish reasons, the minute something gets difficult, it is easier to stop.  Our motivation runs out.

If you are a Christ-follower (or even if you are not yet), there is a shift in perspective that can help us all make changes for the better in our lives…and actually stick with them.  Now before I go any further, I want to point this out.  This is not “magic”.  It will not be easy to make this shift, because our human nature will fight it.  So it is something that you will have to work at (I am still fighting the battle to make this shift myself).

Paul writes in Colossians 3:22-25; “22 Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. 25 Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism.

Do not get caught up in the word slave there.  When we are doing things for ourselves, we can become slaves to selfishness.  What I want you to focus on is verse 23.  Basically, the shift I am writing to you about today is starting to do everything we do for God not ourselves or another person.  When we can make that shift, our motivation and our perspective changes, and maybe we can finally start making improvements in our own lives as well.

Thoughts From a Crosseyed Jesus Freak

It is All About The Cross

We are in one of my favorite times of the year right now.  We are about a week away from Christmas Day as you read this.  There is not very much about this season that I do not like.  Yes, I could do without much of the commercialism that is going on, but in all reality, as long as the main reason for the Christmas season is remembered, then I can deal even with that.

That main reason I mentioned above, let me be very clear what I mean by that.  Christmas is the time of year that we set aside specifically to remember the birth of Jesus Christ.  I personally love the way that John recorded the event in John 1.  In verses 1-5 and 14, John wrote this; “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

While Matthew and Luke record the story in a little more of a concrete way, there is just something poetic about the way that John chose to record Jesus’ birth.  While December 25 is more than likely not the actual date of Jesus’ birth, it is the time that we have set aside to remember that each year. 

December 25 is on a Sunday this year, and we have decided to do something a little different at Central Christian Church.  Instead of a service on Christmas morning, we have chosen to do a service on Saturday, December 24, at 5:30 P.M., and we would like to invite you all to attend.  This will be our first Christmas Eve service, at least to my knowledge, and we could not be more excited about it.  It will be a simple, candlelight service, but I can promise you one great thing.  We will proclaim the main reason for our celebration of Christmas each year, and we will do it proudly. 

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Jesus chose to leave God the Father, and to take on flesh.  He did this by being born of the virgin Mary, and living a human life.  Why would He do this?  You see, we live in a broken world;  a broken world due to our sin that separates us from God.  Jesus came to live the perfect, sinless life, and to go to the cross to pay a debt that we could never pay ourselves.  You see, Christmas is not about snow.  It is not about presents.  It is not about spending time with family.  It is not really even about a baby born in a manger.  All of those things are good, but you see, Christmas is all about the cross!

Thoughts From a Crosseyed Jesus Freak