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.


“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” (Dec. ’16 Newsletter)

“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” or so the beloved Christmas song goes.  And for many that is a very true statement.  I love this time of year, although, I am still having to get used to the summer like temperatures (at least for this TN guy) around the holidays.  It is hard to believe that this will be Kelley and I’s third Christmas season here in NM, but it is. 

While I say that I love this time of year, and I do agree with the song I quoted above, I also realize that this is not always the most wonderful time of the year for many.  For those that do not have family to spend time with, or that have family too far away to get to spend time with, it can be a depressing time of year as well.  Believe me, I get that so much, because as much as I love this time of year, it is hard knowing that Kelley and I will not be spending it with our families either in OH or TN.

Then there are those that just recently lost a loved one.  Holidays are really tough in those situations.  In fact, I was reminded of that talking to Kell’s mom on Thanksgiving Day.  Her father passed away in December of 2014, and Kell’s mom was telling us that she spent almost two hours on the phone with her mom on Thanksgiving Day, because the holiday season is still tough on her not having her husband.

Another reminder of how tough this season can be sometimes is going on right now as I type these words.  I am not sure how many of you are following what is going on in my home state, but Gatlinburg, TN and surrounding areas have been severely damaged by some out of control forest fires.  In fact, just a couple of nights ago, Gatlinburg residents faced a mandatory evacuation, while hundreds of homes, cabins, and business were burned to the ground.  My family is all safe (they live about an hour and a half from Gatlinburg), but there are thousands that have lost everything, right before Christmas.  The town is a home away from home for so many that I know from East TN and OH as well.  I have spent many weekends in the Gatlinburg area in my youth as well.  To say the situation is devastating is an understatement.

I write all of the above for one simple reason.  While I love this time of year, it is a hard time of year for many.  We are reminded of family members that are gone now, and miss the family members and friends that we are not able to spend time with during the holidays. 

Whether this is “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” for you, or it is a difficult reminder of those that are either gone too soon or too far away to spend time with, I want to remind you of one simple truth that we should all hold on to: This is the time of year that we set aside to celebrate the coming of the greatest gift this world has ever seen, and that is the birth of Jesus Christ!

While this is probably not the real date of His birth, this is when we choose to celebrate and remember that Jesus sat aside His glory and divinity in Heaven, and chose to become human.  John records this in a beautiful way in John 1:14; “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.”  Whether you are hurting or celebrating during this season, hold on to the fact that Jesus came, and He came for you and me!

All In-Devotion to Jesus (Newspaper 4-16-16)

A couple of weeks ago, a group of us went to El Paso to see a Christian concert featuring TobyMac.  It was a great show, and I think all of us had a great time.  I’ve found myself listening to Toby’s new album almost constantly since the concert.  There isn’t a bad song on it, but the more I listen to it, the more one song really resonates with me more than any other.  The song is titled “Til The Day I Die” from the album This is Not a Test, and it really spells out what it should be like to live as a Christian.  I wish I could quote all the lyrics, however, here is what I really want you to know.  He sings, “Til the day I die, It’s Your name I’ll glorify. It’s runnin’ deeper than the ocean, this ain’t religion, it’s devotion.  365, every minute, everyday, so in the middle of the madness they can stretch me out like canvas, but I ain’t ever gonna fit in their frame.  I can’t stop, I can’t quit.  It’s in my heart, it’s on my lips.  I can’t stop, no, I can’t quit.  It’s in my heart, yeah, I’m all in.”

There is so much in that song, but what I really take from it is the commitment to be all in for God.  Being a Christian doesn’t mean just making a decision to accept Jesus one day and then going back to living like you were before you met Him.  It’s a commitment to be all in, til the day you die.  That’s what the song is getting at.  Look at this line again.  “This ain’t religion, it’s devotion.  365, every minute, everyday.”  Devotion, 365, every minute, everyday.  The definition of devotion is “love, loyalty, or enthusiasm for a person, activity, or a cause.”  Being a Christian calls for devotion, all day everyday.  We all mess up with this, but that’s when we just get up, dust ourselves off, and try again. 

We all need to be more devoted to Christ.  In fact, He warns us what will happen if we aren’t all in.  Revelation 3:15, 16 reads, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”  In other words, if we are just going through the motions, without any real devotion or commitment to Christ, then we are lukewarm, and He’s not ok with us being lukewarm.  I don’t know about you, but I want to be all in til the day I die.  Think about it this way.  We need to follow Paul’s example with what he wrote in Romans 1:16, 17.  He writes, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”  I’m not ashamed of my devotion to Jesus, are you?

Thoughts from a Crosseyed Jesus Freak

Let Me Introduce Myself (Newspaper)

I’ve recently been given the opportunity to contribute articles on a weekly basis to our local paper, the Carlsbad Current-Argus.  It’s a faith/religion column that is run on Saturdays.  After the article runs in the paper each week, I plan on posting it here as well.  Here is the first…

Let Me Introduce Myself

My name is Kraig Birchfield, and I’m the minister at Central Christian Church located at 305 N. Oak St.   Since this is my first article that I’m submitting to the newspaper, I wanted to take some time to briefly introduce myself.  I’m 32-years old, and originally from East Tennessee.  My wife, Kelley, and I moved here about a year and a half ago to start our ministry at Central CC.  We absolutely love the community of Carlsbad, and look forward to being here for years to come. 

I’m excited about getting to contribute to the faith section in the paper, and would love to meet as many of you as I can.  We have a newsletter that we print monthly at the church, and I write on my personal blog as well.  In the blog and the newsletter articles, I refer to myself as a “Crosseyed Jesus Freak”.  That may be confusing at first look, so I thought I would take a moment here to explain where that name comes from.  Let’s look at “Crosseyed” first.  Simply put, this comes from my life verse of Hebrews 12:1-3.  I won’t quote it all for the sake of space, but it goes on to say in verse 2 to, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus”.  That phrase is where “Crosseyed” comes from.  That’s how I try to live my life, with my eyes fixed on Jesus, and what He did for me, and for us all, when He went to the cross for our sins.  In other words, I try to live my life, “Crosseyed”, constantly reminding myself who Jesus is and what He has done for me.

The “Jesus Freak” part really speaks to my age.  I was born in the early 1980’s, so I was a teen during the prime of one of the greatest pioneer Christian music groups of all time…dc Talk.  I was fortunate enough to see them as my first ever concert, and the tour that they were on at the time was called the Jesus Freak Tour.  “Jesus Freak” is one of the most popular Christian Rock songs of all time, and it’s where I draw the inspiration to call myself a “Jesus Freak”.  In the song, dc Talk sings, “What will people think when they hear that I’m a Jesus Freak, what will people do when they find that it’s true.  I don’t really care if they label me a Jesus Freak.  There ain’t no disguising the truth.”

Jesus is the best thing that has ever happened in my life, and I’m proud to call myself a “Crosseyed Jesus Freak”.  Like the song says, ‘there ain’t no disguising the truth”.  Jesus is my life, and He is why I love being in full-time ministry.  I can’t imagine doing anything else.  If you don’t know Jesus yet, I would love to talk with you sometime.  Ultimately, I want to see as many people become truly “Crosseyed Jesus Freaks” and living as true Christ followers as I can.  That’s my passion, and I look forward to sharing with you weekly about different aspects of my passion. 

Thoughts from a Crosseyed Jesus Freak,

Kraig Birchfield

Only God Can Judge Me

I know the areas of my life in which I fail on a regular basis.  It’s human nature to not let everyone see the “worst” of us, but the thing about it is that it is not going to stay a secret.  In fact, God already knows those areas of our life.  It’s not just failing we’re talking about here.  We’re really talking about sinning, and to call it anything else than that is trying to sugarcoat it in an effort to make it seem not so bad.  So let me rephrase my first sentence.  I know the areas of my life in which I SIN on a regular basis.

The problem I’ve been seeing recently, even from people that I know would consider themselves Christians, is an attitude of trying to justify their behavior, or possible sin, by using the statement; “Only God can judge me!”  I get it.  Who likes to be told they are doing something wrong?  Who likes having to confront some of the worst parts of themselves, especially when having to deal with that is worse because we are our own worst critics at times.  It’s just easier to justify it, or gloss over the sin in our lives so that we don’t have to deal with it.  “God is the only one that can judge me”.

Is that a true statement, or are we just fooling ourselves when we use it?  The simple answer is, there really isn’t a simple answer.  First, let me deal with something that should be basic.  Saying God is the only one that can judge me as a justification for my bad behavior should not be a comfort.  God is going to judge all of us in the end, and we are told to confess our sins, not judge them or sweep them under the rug so to speak.  I John 1:8-10 reads, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.”

So with that out of the way, let’s dive in to the question at hand; Is God the only one that can judge us?  The good thing is that scripture does seem to speak to this, but at the same time, it doesn’t make one clear definitive answer.  Jesus talks about this idea on more than one occasion, but let’s just focus on one for this discussion.  Matthew 7:1-5 (click here) is where Jesus famously talks about not trying to get the speck out of your brother’s eye while you still have a plank in your own eye.  In other words, don’t judge someone else’s sin without being aware of your own.  Some people like to say that He is saying that it is not right to judge anyone at anytime.  In fact, that passage starts off with, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  

It appears, when you look at everything here, however, that He is saying make sure you deal with your own sin first, before helping your brother with his.  In fact, that’s exactly what He says.  He ends with this; “first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”  Remove the speck from your brother’s eye.  We have a responsibility to help our brother, but only after making sure we have taken care of confessing and getting rid of our own sin.  And that can be an ongoing process.  That’s where I John 1 that I quoted earlier really comes into play.

Also, let’s look at some of the instructions from Paul to the church in Corinth.  I Corinthians 5:12, 13 read this way; “12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked person from among you.'”  This would make it appear that if the person is not a believer, then we really have no business in judging them.  That doesn’t mean that we don’t try to build a relationship with them in order to introduce them to our Savior, but it means that we don’t judge them with the same standards that we should one of our own.  That’s a topic for a whole different blog that I may try to get to later.  But Paul seems to clearly state that we, as Christian, are to hold each other accountable, and that is only done by seeing sin as sin and calling it out.  He even goes as far to say that if that person won’t deal with their sin and get rid of it, then they should be expelled.  Not a popular notion, but one that is spelled out.

So, can only God judge you?  If you’re a non-believer, then yes, but I wouldn’t want to be on that end of the judgement either.  If you are a Christian, you are responsible to God, but your fellow Christians are charged with helping to hold you accountable.  It all goes back to the idea of community.  We are supposed to be in this together, and just letting a brother or sister slide by when a sin is apparent is not a very loving way to share that community.  It’s not about judging for the sake of holding someone down.  It’s about holding each other accountable so that we can all grow closer to God together.

Does God Care About Now Or Only Eternity?

I came across a quote a few days ago, and the more I’ve thought about it, the more it bothers me.  There is some truth to it, but then there is some things that it alludes to that I think misses the mark.  The meme that the quote is found on is included below.

Gospel only for eternal life

I agree that some churches have stopped talking about sin and eternity.  That is to their detriment.  Preachers are charged with preaching the whole word of God, so we have to preach against the bad, as well as preach the good.  I also agree that there is no promise in scripture that if you give your life to Christ, then everything in this life is going to go well for you.  That’s simply now there, however, some of these churches that have gotten away from preaching against sin seem to preach a “prosperity gospel”, meaning that if you are a Christian then you are going to prosper in this life.

What I have an issue with in this quote is that Jesus did care about the well-being of the people that He was ministering to, in their physical lives.  That doesn’t mean that that was His only focus, but most of the miracles He performed were done to help people in their lives, not necessarily only in eternity.  He healed the sick, lame, blind, mute, and even raised the dead.

He also said this in Matthew 11:28-30; “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  Does that mean that everything is going to be great?  Or easy?  Not at all.  But I believe that it means that if we are in Christ, when the bad things in life happen, we have His help in getting through them.  Not that He will take them away completely, but that we have the God of the universe on our side.  He will give us help and rest when we need it.  Just having a relationship with Him should make going through the hard times more bearable, but that doesn’t mean they won’t come.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this; Yes, we need to preach against sin, and we need to preach on eternity, because Jesus came to save us from our sin.  Our God, however, does care about us in the here and now.  That doesn’t mean that if we follow Him then everything is going to be easy, but it can mean that it will be easier to face the hard times in life when we have Him to lean on.

The Vine and The Branches

This past Sunday, a person from my church came up to me about 10 minutes before I was to preach, and wanted to discuss a passage that they had been studying in their personal Bible Study because they felt that they were missing something in their lives that the passage was speaking about.  I love discussing passages with people, especially if they are trying to apply the passage to their lives, to improve their walk with Jesus.  That’s really what being a disciple is all about.  Unfortunately, Sunday mornings right before I preach is not a great time brain function wise for me.  I’ve got my sermon on the front of my mind, getting ready to preach God’s word, so I had to decline the discussion at that point, telling them that I would be glad to talk to them about it, just not right that moment.  Before we ended that conversation, however, they were able to tell me what passage they were struggling with.  The vine and the branches, and not sharing their faith with enough people, is all I got out of it, but now that I’ve had time to focus on it, I think I figured out what they were talking about.

Jesus has a teaching in John 15 (click here) talking about the vine and the branches, and that if you are not part of the vine, then you, as the branch, will be cut off.  This person that approached me seems to have such a heart for telling others about Jesus.  They always want to find ways to improve their efforts, and I applaud that.  The potential problem, however, is that they never seem to see any results, so they feel like a failure.  I’ve spent many conversations with this person, trying to encourage them in the fact that they are just to stay faithful, presenting Jesus to others.  The results or lack of results really has nothing to do with them.  But they stay down on themselves because they feel like they should be doing more.  I get that desire.  I want to see huge numbers come to Christ, because I know the freedom and the life that awaits them when they do.  But it’s not always up to us.

So, I had a little extra time this week, and I thought I would take a look at John 15, and Jesus’ teaching on the vine and the branch, to see what it says about the fear of being cut off.  There is a lot of good information in this passage, and it is of great value.  It is talking about living a life that is in Christ, which does bring to mind telling others about what you have found in Him.  But what it is getting at is that your life will change because of your relationship with Him.  People will be able to tell you are different just by your actions, in addition to what you say to them.

When I think about changing lives because of Christ, one of Paul’s more famous writings comes to mind.  In Galatians 5:13-26 (click here), Paul writes about living by the spirit.  In particular, he lists the fruits of the spirit in verses 22, 23.  What Jesus is talking about in John 15 is exhibited by the fruits of the spirit being seen in your life as described by Paul.  You are responsible for sharing the Gospel, but you are not responsible if that person doesn’t immediately accept it.  You are responsible for growing closer to Christ in your life, and help fellow disciples along the path toward a closer relationship with Jesus as well.  This doesn’t let you off the hook for never sharing your faith with someone that doesn’t know Him, but their reception to it doesn’t necessarily depend on you.

Still not sure?  Look at I Corinthians 3 (click here).  Paul is trying to teach the Corinthian church that it doesn’t matter who led each of them to Christ.  Those sharing Jesus with others are all doing what God has asked them to do, and sharing the same Gospel, so no one is better off because they accepted Jesus through one preacher or another.  But I think Paul has a lot to say to us in the matter of someone’s reception of what we share with them as well.  Think about it.  Paul says that he planted and Apollos watered, but it was God who made it grow.

In other words, all I’m trying to say is that all you can do is share your faith, and continue to grow closer to God.  If those you are trying to witness to listen to you or not, their response is really up to God.  Who knows, you may have planted a seed that will later be watered by someone else, and you may never see the result of that work, this side of heaven.  But you can see the fruits of the spirit grow in your own life.  Those fruits of the spirit grow when you remain in the vine.  Keep growing!