Sunlight and Roots part #1

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Have you ever noticed that flowers and plants will always reach towards the sunlight? Put them in a dark room with one source of light, and they will bend in its direction. Keep them in darkness and they wither and die. But all they need is that kiss of light to energize them to life. God has ingrained in them the ability to seek the light which is their source of life. And so He has with us.

We live in that dark room. Just look around you. Read the news. Scroll social media. There is so much heartbreak and devastation. Greed and pride are the mainstay of the day. The human heart believe that it is the center of the universe. The weak are exploited and trafficked all over the world. Terrorist attacks are at an all-time high. Humanity is disregarding God’s standards and rewriting rules on sexuality, marriage, and gender. Those worshiped in America the most are the celebrities and athletes rather than the One who made them. We accumulate all we can and continue to long for more. Almost a million babies are killed each year because of the need for ‘pro-choice’. None of this is new; I realize that. And fortunately, this isn’t the complete story.

There is a source of light in our world of darkness. It’s not the human spirit. It’s the Holy Spirit. It’s not human power that draw the shades back to let light into the darkness. It’s the forces of humility and grace. We have a light. His name is Jesus. And those who follow Him reflect his light so that it pushes back even more of the darkness.

If you find yourself suffocating under the pressures of life. If you feel burdened and broken. If you’ve been wrecked by the harshness of this world. No matter how dark your room is, reach for the Light. He is your source of life. As you do, reflect His light in the world around you. Someone you know really needs it.

Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”

John 8:12 (NLT)

Peace brothers and sister.

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Jesus Raised the Bar, He didn’t remove it

follow JesusI’ve been journeying through the sermon on the mount (Matthew chapters 5 through 7) over the last couple weeks and there seems to be a common phrase that Jesus used.

You have heard it said…but I say…

Matthew 5

Jesus makes use of this phrase in verses 21, 27, 33, 38, and 43 of chapter 5. If He felt compelled to use it so often in such a condensed portion of scripture it must be important. But what was He trying to say? I think it’s easy to fall into a trap here. There are prominent misconceptions about this that are easy to believe, but are false regardless of their believably. People can sometimes take them out of context (which is never a good idea) and that leads them to make faulty conclusions. I’ve done that too. Who hasn’t?

Lets start with what Jesus is NOT saying. He is not saying that the law is void and null. Jesus is not rewriting the law of God because to do so would be to rewrite the character of God. How do we know that Jesus isn’t saying this? Because Jesus is the exact imprint of God and Jesus lived out the law. If the law wasn’t important, then the life of Jesus didn’t matter. I would fear for anyone who believed that. We also know that Jesus isn’t abolishing the law because of His own words. The following verses preceded His statement above.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:17-20 (ESV) [my emphasis]

Jesus was the embodiment of the law. He lived it perfectly. He reflected God perfectly. So would He say that none of that is important any longer? Absolutely not! That would be like Jesus saying, “follow me, except don’t do all that stuff that I did when I was on earth.” We also know that Jesus was not making corrections to the law. To think that would mean that God made mistakes in the past and Jesus was His editor. Malachi 3:6 says that God does not change. Since God does not change, His word does not change.

For a long time I felt bad for people of the Old Testament. They had a strict law code and system to adhere to. It seemed so heavy to carry. But then I started to see exactly what the coming of Christ did and I began to see how He didn’t remove that godly standard, but actually raised the bar for everyone. When Jesus says, “you have heard…but I say…” He’s doing a few things. One, He’s removing false conceptions about what it means to follow the law of God. Humanity has always distorted truth. Second, He’s clarify the heart of the law and therefore, the heart of God in His purity. Third, Jesus is calling humanity to go way deeper. Below are some examples:

#1- Instead of just not murdering someone, you shouldn’t be angry with a person and withhold grace and forgiveness. The life of the Christian in these terms should reflect Christ, hanging on the cross, wrongfully convicted, suffering for others, and doing so that many would come to grace and find forgiveness in God. The Christian heart should not be an angry heart. The Christian heart should never want God’s full judgement for anyone because they’ve been saved from it themselves by what Jesus has done. Instead, the Christian should do what they can to extend love and grace, not wrath, even to those who abuse and exploit us.

#2-Instead of just keeping yourself from sleeping with another besides your spouse, you shouldn’t even long for another. That means you shouldn’t desire to undress others with your eyes, or seek out a fantasy world through books, articles, videos, pictures, and any other source. Your whole heart should be for your spouse. If you’re not married, the rules still apply. In addition to that, longing for anything more than God amounts to adultery towards God himself. Placing material objects, comfort, people, money, or anything else at the highest level of importance in our lives demotes God. When we do that, our heart betrays us worse more than ever.

Prior to the arrival of Jesus on planet earth, humanity had a standard by which to measure themselves and to know the heart of God. But it was still lived out by imperfect people. Even the greatest figures in the bible messed up and fell short of the mark. But when Jesus arrived, humanity saw it all displayed. And that removed any ounce of deniability. They could not longer say that they didn’t know what God meant or how it should look to live for Him. When I give my students and assignment with verbal instructions, I understand that some of them will not get it right. But when I give them the instructions and then demonstrate them over and over, they won’t be able to say that they don’t know what’s expected. Jesus demonstrated God’s heart, God’s character, God’s law, and God’s love. Then He looked out at humanity and said the following words:

I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

John 14:6 (NASB)

Jesus raised the bar for everyone because He showed us what a life lived for God really looks like. After centuries of men, women, and kings getting it wrong, humanity had perfection revealed. God himself, clothed in humanity, out of grace and love, said, “let me show you how.” He now bids us to come and do the same. We won’t be perfect as he was perfect, but that should never deter us. The life of the Christians is aimed at Christ’s life, surrendered in Christ’s death, and empowered by Christ’s Spirit. There is no higher standard than that.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.

Ephesians 5:1-2 (NASB)

To imitate perfection is a very intimidating notion. But we aren’t on our own in this endeavor. God’s Holy Spirit is within us, God’s children surround us, and God’s grace covers us.

Races don’t exist

af9874ec95caadf9fef66dafb6925b92272470bef7947dea95e5202b8f8a43e9The battle over racism has reverberated throughout history. Cultures have used the concept of race, or variations of it, to subjugate groups of people for millennia. In the US alone, we denied civil rights to particular groups based on the “color” of their skin. More than that, we used race to segregate large portions of our population from public areas and certain jobs. If that wasn’t enough, we even bound people in chains all because of race. However, all of these conflicts have occurred based on a faulty concept. There is no such thing as multiple races. That’s right! Races don’t exist, therefore racism is discrimination towards something that isn’t real. That, among many other things, should make racists feel great shame. How have we come to such a place where people are so hung up on belonging to a specific race? How did we ever develop a construct of racial groups in the first place?

Over 100 years ago, an American sociologist named W.E.B. Du Bois spoke out on this issue. He was concerned that race was being used as biological explanations for social and cultural differences between different populations of people. Du Bois criticized the idea of using white and black labels for discrete groups. He claimed that these distinctions ignored the scope of human diversity and were not biologically correct in the first place.

 

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Recent scientific research has supported Du Bois’ claims. Here’s a quote from Michael Yudell, a professor of public health at Drexel University in Philadelphia who has been involved in studies on the matter.

It’s [race] a concept we think is too crude to provide useful information, it’s a concept that has social meaning that interferes in the scientific understanding of human genetic diversity and it’s a concept that we are not the first to call upon moving away from.

Race has been a tool, not for understanding people or for preserving culture and identity, but to subjugate and segregate people groups within societies and without. The best way for racism to disappear in a society is for people to come to the reality that race is only a construct of their own imagination. Human cultures have been bred to see race. We’re constantly inundated with it. We hear about it in schools, in music, on movies, and in the news. But race, has no place, among the world of facts. I’ve written this topic in a post two years ago but the issue has only grown in our American media and mainstream since. So I feel compelled to share once again. Below are just a few reasons why race is a false title for you and me to apply to anyone:

#1- We all have the same beginning.

Race: a group of persons related by common descent or heredity.

Dictionary.com

Every single human being on planet earth has the same descendant.  It doesn’t matter where you live, what language you speak, or how you look. We are all related. Africans are related to Europeans, are related to Americans, are related to Asians. We are all one big family. If we are all related, race cannot exist. To discriminate against another is to attack your own family. But if we all started from the same two people, then why the variations? Why do we look so different? For the same reason why you don’t look like your distant cousins. Now multiply that by billions of people genetically mixing over thousands of years and it’s not too difficult to understand why humanity is so diverse.

#2- We are all the same color.

One thing people use as a race identifier is the color of skin. But what few people realize is that every single human is the same color. That’s right! So why the different variations?  It all comes down to how much melanin your body produces (which also affects eye and skin color). People have the ability to make multiple kinds and levels of melanin in their skin and that will determine the shade variation of your appearance. That is all determined by the combination of genes that have mixed and been passed down over the ages. The amount of melanin can be varied from very little, like in fair skinned people, to a lot found in dark brown skin. In combination with this is also the color of our skin cells. Most cells are clear and we can see the reddish purple of the blood through very pale skin, but in our outer skin the upper cells have keratin fibers for protection. Keratin has a pale yellowish hue. Variations in human skin shade also correlate closely with geography and the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation. So humans have various shades based on the combinations from melanin production, keratin, the blood under their skin, and exposure to the sun.

#3- The concept of race is fairly new

Contemporary scholars argue that race was made common place as recent as the 18th century as people were searching for a way to classify people. Many disciplines have declared that the real meaning of race, especially in American society, has to do with social realities, as opposed to physical variations in the humans. In other words, race was created as a means of justifying abuses. And even today, race is being used to further drive a wedge among people within a nation. Prior to the 18th century, most civilizations viewed others in accordance with people groups and family lineage. Read historical texts, including the bible, and see how labels are used. So while persecution still existed in great abundance before the 1700’s, it was based on biases, a desire for dominance and power, socioeconomic status, and differences in cultural customs. You know who enslaved Africans first? Africans. You know who the “white” Europeans enslaved first? Other “white” Europeans.  All of the elements of discrimination that once existed still exist today, yet we’ve added the race element to it as well, and it has been tearing at the American nation ever since.

#4- The One that created us gave us a real image

Race is more about image than it is anything else. We are physical creatures and we often view others based on their physical appearance and how they portray themselves and that goes a long way in determining one’s image. We aren’t black. We aren’t white. We aren’t anything that has to do with color. We aren’t meant to put ourselves in a tiny box labeled Caucasian or Hispanic or African American. Those labels should have no place in a society. They only serve to divide and brainwash us to view ourselves and others based on those labels. We all have the same inherent label and image. Once people can come to grips with that reality, the better we’ll be in treating and viewing others how they should be.

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:27 (NIV)

Enough with Unite the Right. Enough with KKK and White Supremacy. Enough with Black Lives Matter and Black Power. Can’t we all see that this is all self defeating? Can’t we see that all this race talk is further making race a problem? We need to wake up America! There is no such thing as Black and White. There are only people. We are all the same race. We are all image bearers of the One that created us. You know how conflicts arise? Pride and jealousy over differences in people. Sin! It’s people developing images for themselves and others that are so distant from who we were created to be. We are all different. And that is good. Maybe a better way to phrase it is, we’re all unique and that’s how we’ve been designed.

Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, came to planet earth to destroy this social phenomenon of false imagery and discrimination. He came to unite His creation based on who He is, not based on our differences. We are created with differences, not to mistreat and label others, but so we will learn to be in community and use our skills to benefit humankind. Faith in Christ, unites. Faith in Christ destroys walls. Faith in Christ opens our eyes to see beyond physical appearance. Faith in Christ helps us to know who we really are and were always meant to be. Lets have a few less protests and a lot more proclaiming the love of Jesus. Lets forget about resisting the national anthem and focus on a revival of hearts on fire for Jesus Christ and His mission.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:28 (NIV) [my emphasis]

Marriage Series #5: Don’t forget your number one.

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For some reason, when people get married, life together can get muddled very easily. This final post in the five part series takes us deep into just how highly we hold our marriage relationship among the things of life.

Arguably nothing distracts us more from our spouse than having children. All of sudden, there is another little miracle to focus on, and before we know it, we’ve forgotten to focus on an even more important relationship: our marriage. That’s right, your spouse is your priority. Not at the neglect of your children, but because your children need your spouse to be number one.

We are given children to raise, and nurture, and help mold into godly individuals so that they can go out into the world to do the same. In a nut shell, we have kids with the goal to give them away at a later point in their future, and to prepare them for when that day comes. The marriage is way different. We join with a spouse for life. Our goal is never to prepare our spouse to leave one day. That would be crazy! Our goal is to draw more closely together in the union as one. But unfortunately, so many parents neglect their marriage for the cause of their children. They pour their time and effort out and have nothing left for the one that matters most. Don’t get me wrong, I have two little ones and I know the time and energy that it takes to raise kiddos. I also know the special place they hold in my heart. But I had a wife first, and I need to make sure she remembers that she had my heart first.

Children aren’t the only drain on marriage fun. For men especially, work can exhaust even the most hardy individual. Sometimes people fill their lives with work out of necessity. I’m a realist. I get it. I have a career as a teacher, I own a window washing business, and I coach wrestling. My life is full but out of the need to provide for my family. God has been so good to provide each of those opportunities for us. I could easily allow them to drain the life out of me and have nothing left when I get home. But that would be neglect. That would be sinful. Yes, sinful. God paired me with an amazing woman and I owe her my service, my love, and my affection. To deny her any of these is to shortchange the greatest treasure in my life. I will be the first to admit, that I have come up short, more than once. But each day is a new day for me to show her how much she means to me no matter how busy I am.

On the other hand, some people pour their lives out for their careers out of choice, not need. Why? Jobs can be controlled. Jobs are safe. And lets face it, jobs are way easier than relationships. So a lot of people retreat into their work where they can have more success. There’s no other way to put it…this is a cowards way out and it’s pathetic and crushing to a marriage.  Even with that said, it’s not too late to reset your priorities in life and to re-calibrate your heart back to your spouse.

There are many things that can take our eyes off our marriage. Worrying about bills, struggling health, stresses caused by others, etc…Whatever the case may be, it is possible to always have our marriage on high priority. It’s a choice…a constant one. I have a few ideas on how we can make sure we keep our spouse as our number one love (other than Jesus of course).

#1-Continue dating

Make it a point to go out with your spouse. If you have children, make sure you have some dates without those bundles of joy. If you can afford it, try once a month. If you can do more, do more. Dates don’t have to be expensive either. There’s plenty you can do for under $10 or even free. The effort makes the difference.

#2-Never stop adoring your spouse

To adore our spouse is very much a choice. Circumstance can certainly affect us but we get the power to choose whether we stay head over heals for our significant other. Remember how you loved them once. Remember how you never wanted to be apart. Hold on to that. That never has to change, we just allow it to. We should be way more in love with them at the end of life than we were the day we got married.

#3-Remember that they are a gift

I know that this can be hard right after an argument. But you don’t deserve them. They don’t deserve you. Your spouse is a symbol of God’s amazing grace in your life. God created the system of marriage as a way to help one another in carrying out life’s purposes. Don’t forget that or take that for granted.

#4-Don’t forget who your spouse belongs to

God made your spouse. That’s a fact. Treat her like the princess she is. Treat him like the prince he is. Even when they don’t act like it.

#5-Keep the communication lines open

There’s lots of ways to do this. Set specific times to talk. For my wife and I, that mostly happens after 8:30 when the kids are in bed. But we also need to make sure we don’t act on important things without including our spouse. Remember, we are one in marriage and they need to be the one we go to first and most.

#6-Have a lot of fun

My wife and I are best friends. We love to laugh together, be playful, sit by a fire in our backyard, watch movies, and so much more. Marriage is awesome. It’s a never ending sleep over with your best friend.

#7-Be intimate

Guys, this is more than just physical intimacy. Ladies, this is more than just emotional intimacy. To be intimate includes both and so much more. We can’t deny each other our hearts. We need to be playful, and physical, and open with our fears and dreams. We have to share, and share deeply.

I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine

Song of Songs 6:3

The marriage relationship is so important. That cannot be stressed enough. We cannot treat it like a secondary relationship. We can’t put our spouse on the back burner until our kids are out of the house or we meet that career goal. There are always going to be sacrifices on the part of each person in the marriage, but we can’t afford to sacrifice our marriage, not even a little.

Marriage is amazing. God made it to be amazing. You’re spouse is an absolute treasure. Make sure they know that. Peace to you and your marriage!

Follow Up: Use these questions for your own reflection or to engage in a discussion with the love of your life.

1- How often do you and your spouse go on dates?

2- Are you placing anyone or anything above your spouse (children, work, something else)?

3- Do you make time regularly to have conversations with your spouse about more than just surface level things?

4- Are you physically playful and intimate with your spouse?

5- What are signs that your love and affection for your spouse is growing? Is it growing? How can/do you nurture your affections for them?