Take it in

Life is good until it isn’t. A change that comes in a moment.

Hearts once leaping in exaltation now sunken in deep despair.

A smile now a lifeless expression.

Time unshaped by gratitude is lost for no one’s gain.

Unaware of how good it was, walking aimlessly.

What matters most is directly ahead, often missed for what lies beyond.

From now on it’ll be different.

The meaning of life comes more into view.

Prayers become more earnest as helplessness takes control.

A peace floods the soul like a warm embrace on a cold dark night.

How is there strength when the world is undone?

A Savior’s love overwhelms despair. Piercing the darkness, that glimmer of light.

Hope grows with each new day. I will make it after all.

From now on it’ll be different.

Time can slow to soak in each moment before they pass into memory.

Petty differences shall pass into oblivion.

Eyes look more longingly now upon those we love.

*This poem is dedicated to those who have experienced the earth-shattering moments. The sudden loss of a loved one. The diagnosis. Pain that turned everything upside down. I hope you too have experienced that amazing peace that our loving God provides, especially in the hardest moments. If not, that is my prayer for you. You are loved more than you know. This is a celebration of that love that has rescued so many from the depths. Peace in Christ loved ones.

How the satan will defeat you

 

The satan is the title reserved for the one who opposes God. By extension, he is also the one who opposes those who follow God. He is sometimes referred to as the devil, the prince of the power of the air, and the enemy of God. Jesus told us his mission in John chapter ten when He said, “the enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy…” He is the leader of rebellions and the father of lies. And his sights are set on you and me.

Reading the title, you may think that I have a very cynical view of the fight for our spiritual survival. I assure you, it’s very much the opposite. In fact, I think it’s one of the most important struggles in every human’s story. It’s one in which the follower of Christ has every tool to win, yet every opportunity to still lose. I know many believers who are faithfully waging war every day and walking in victory. However, I see people every year fail to see the subtleties of their own crippling. Which, if left untreated, will lead to paralysis.

In any war, the most valuable information would be the enemies strategic plans. Fortunately, in this spiritual war, that’s exactly what we have. This enemy of ours doesn’t even change his strategy through the ages. It’s been the same since the very beginning. We already know that the satan wants to kill, steal, and destroy, but how? It’s simple, and very subtle. He wants to divide and cause doubt. Whenever and wherever you see those two things, you know who is behind it. That’s why Paul says in Romans 16 to stay away from people who cause divisions. And doubt is nothing short of the opposite of faith.

Jesus said in Matthew 12 that a house divided against itself cannot stand. On a personal level, that’s exactly what doubt does for a person’s mind. It tears it into opposing directions. And on a collective level, the illustration is obvious. I’ve seen several instances where certain people will come into a church and start causing rifts and divisions. My family and my wife’s family have fallen prey to the same thing. Friendships have been torn apart, teams collapse, business go under, all because of division. In terms of military strategy, the best way to defeat and enemy is to divide their forces and to cause confusion. In this war, I see the enemy’s fingerprints nearly every day.

It starts, often times, by being too busy. When we’re honest we have to admit that there is no such thing as too busy to spend time with God. We simply choose to use our time for other things. We make work, kid’s activities, and hobbies our priorities. Interject some entertainment in the mix and all of a sudden we are just too tired. Believe me. I get it. I have a full time job, I also own a business, and I have three kids. Life is full and it is hectic. And what the enemy of our souls wants us to believe is that we are just too busy for that bible study time, to get away to pray, to sing worship songs, or to serve others. But, we all know that’s deception at its best. The life that crowds out God is the life divided from God. There’s nothing more that the satan would want then for parents to not spiritually invest in their children because they’re too busy, or go to church because they made other plans, or leave the Bible at home while we race off to work. It’s not about being busy. The apostle Paul and all the other first century church planters were busy. It’s about losing sight of what matters. We’re prospering and are successful in life yet our souls are wasting away from starvation. That is how we lose. That is how the satan will defeat you. He will separate you from your source of life and from those in your life that can help nourish it.

I’ve done a few weeks without going to church and I feel it. Sure, I do my own study, devotionals, and podcasts. But there is no replacement for being in a group. We lose our rear guards, our accountability, and our encouragement. We drift into a life of self-centeredness. When separated from others, we shrink back into ourselves.

The more we get divided from God and His people, the more we begin interpreting the Bible on our own terms. Truth begins to lose its footing in our hearts. Compromise after compromise leads us further down the black hole of spiritual ineptitude. The further down we go the less God and His mission become a priority to us. We are losing. And we are withering away and don’t even know it. Oh, we can feel something is off. But the fall has been a gradual one. And the climb back up seems insurmountable. So why try? Well, because your life depends on it. And so does your family. And your friends. And every other relationship you have.

For the one who relates, and finds themselves in this story, don’t let him win. Reconnect with others and reunite with God. Sing more, pray more, read and study more. Make time to soak in His presence. There is nothing more valuable in life. There is no one too far from God to be restored. There is always hope for the wandering heart. Because our Good Shepherd is always looking for His sheep. If you know someone who has drifted away, stay close to them. Don’t lose hope. Keep praying. The darkness can be lifted any moment and they will see the light. For those in step, undivided, and devoted. Remain strong and vigilant. It only takes one choice to derail the train. Stay strong and stay faithful. Us weaker people need your example.

God bless brothers and sisters and remember the victory has already been won for us. We just have to walk in it day after day.

His no matter what

“Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel,”. Ephesians‬ ‭6:19‬ ‭NIV‬‬

There have only been a few moments in my life when I’ve had to make the choice to stand for Jesus rather than stand with the crowd, and it actually cost me something big. And I use the word “big” loosely. I’ve lost friends and family members because of my faith. I’ve lost financial opportunities as well. I’ve faced my fair share of criticism. But I’ve never had to make a choice that would put my life at risk.

I read a story recently about a man named Sebastian. He was a follower of Jesus in the early days of the church. But his station in life made his faith something of a problem. Sebastian worked directly for the Emperor of Rome in a time Emperor wanted to be worshipped as a god and had no patience for a rival. Here’s a bit of the story.

Sebastian walked through the halls of the palace daily. He had worked hard to get to this position in the royal guard, but once he had gotten to Rome, he restrained himself from the idolatrous lifestyle of imperial Rome. He only wanted to serve Christ wholeheartedly. 

When Emperor Diocletian heard of his restraint, he had little interest in his service record. He confronted him and found out about his faith. At this, he ordered Sebastian taken outside the city and shot to death with arrows. The soldiers did their job and left his body to rot. Soon a group of Christians came to give his body a proper burial. As they lifted him, one of them exclaimed, “He moves!” “Shhh!” cautioned another. “Let us take him somewhere safe.” Sebastian was taken to one of their homes where he was treated and recovered from his injuries. As soon as he was well enough, he placed himself before the emperor again. Once he had tasted the hope of heaven, the pleasures of this world had even less appeal for him. The emperor was of course shocked to see Sebastian seemingly back from the dead. He ordered Sebastian seized and beaten to death and his body thrown into the sewer. His body was recovered again by Christians and buried in the catacombs. 

A time may come when we are all asked to choose between our allegiance to Christ and our allegiance to our physical life. Even if that day does not come, we are all asked to stand with Him no matter what. No matter the words spoken about us. No matter the judgement cast our way. If you are His, be His, no matter what. Pray for me that I will have the strength to answer that call.

“Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.” Acts‬ ‭4:29‬ ‭NIV‬‬

A Tent and a Savior

The feast of Tabernacles is underway for 2019. A couple of nights ago my daughters and I set up our makeshift tabernacle in our backyard. We look forward to it all year long. Throughout the rest of this week we will get to sit under the tabernacle and talk about the amazing God we serve. My wife and I will share stories with our children of how God came through in big ways in our lives. We get to teach them about restoration and hope. For our kids, they get to hear how God is real in their parents lives. As they get older, they’ll have stories of their own. It’s a week out of the year that has value that cannot be measured. It’s one more way for my wife and I to explain to our young children who Jesus is and why He came to Earth. As a parent, there is nothing more valuable that I could teach them.

In 2011, two years before our first daughter was born, my wife and I began learning about the feasts of the Lord. Even though I had been a Christian all my life, these were pretty new to me. I had never studied or observed them prior to 8 years ago. Did that make me any less of a Christian? Not in the slightest. Did that make me any less saved? No a chance. However, I have come to realize that I was missing out on a huge opportunity to worship and learn about my Savior beyond the boundaries of church, small groups, and personal devotions. Now I am so thankful that my children will not have the same experience. They will get to learn about Jesus in a more full way than I did and how the scriptures present Him through intricate foreshadowing. After all, the feasts are all about Him.

When John chose to introduce his readers to who Jesus was, he selected a specific image that all Old Testament readers would have been very familiar with. He chose the tabernacle. The tabernacle itself was always meant to be a piece of Eden. Since humanity was exiled from the garden because of sin, our hearts have been longing to return. And for God, that’s His end game. Eden was the place where heaven and earth overlapped. It was where God walked among man. And when that came crashing down as man invited sin into his heart, God has set into motion a plan to restore humanity and the world to its rightful design. After God rescued Israel from bondage in Egypt, He established a special covenant relationship with them. In doing so His presence would once again be among men. This time, it would be housed in a tent of meeting. Everything with in the design of the tent had garden imagery from the tree of life to the very stitch of the fabric. It served as a reminder of what we had forfeited and where God was drawing us back to.

It’s no wonder that Jesus would be described in a way that drew readers focus to the tabernacle. In comparing Him to the tent, readers would have to reconcile several things. One, that Jesus was the way to get people back to the garden. He would be the tool of restoring humanity and all of creation. Two, that God was fully embodied in the person of Jesus. And lastly, that in order to seek out God, everyone would have to go through Jesus. Those are the realities that we get to teach our kids about who Jesus is.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.'”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” John‬ ‭1:1-16‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Yom Kippur in Yeshua

MidwkGraphic

Brothers and sisters, we are atoned for! We are covered, cleansed, and ever-changing because of our Messiah Jesus. Today is the high holy day of Yom Kippur. In Israel, it’s one of the most sacred days of the calendar. For followers of Jesus, its a reminder of the depths of the sacrifice it took to make us new. It should not be a day of despair for anyone who has pledged their life to Christ. Today, we celebrate the saving power of our God. Today, we rejoice in our freedom from death itself. I pray for all of us to experience a new reverence and awe for Jesus. May our love grow deeper as we remember the life we’ve been rescued from and are continuing to be drawn out of. If we’ve strayed, let’s place our feet back on the narrow path. If we’re distracted, let’s take our eyes off of the waves of life and put them back on the one walking on the water. If we’re weary, let’s stop and sit at His feet. Today is a new day son and daughter because you are written in the book of life.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

1 John 3:1 NIV

Toxic Words

The Bible is very clear on the point that what we say has a major impact on those we talk to both directly and indirectly. We can count on the fact that everything we say has the potential to shape someone in a big way. Somethings will get swept under the rug and forgotten. Others will stick in people’s minds like superglue, possibly for a lifetime. The other thing about it is, we don’t get to choose which words of ours stay with someone and which they let go of. All the more reason to be not just careful, but intentional.

I think most readers will be able to relate to this statement: most of the words that lead to regret are those spoken in frustration. Kids, a spouse, coworkers, family, and the like can all push us to a point where the flood gates of our mouths are loosed and the lava of unhelpful and poisonous speech come spewing forth. Sometimes instant guilt washes over us in these moments. Other times it takes until the unsettled emotions level out and our minds become rational once again. Whatever the case, the damage has been inflicted and at that point all we can do is release our pride and petition our victims for mercy and pray that God will clean up our mess.

Examples are always helpful so let me share some personal ones that God has taught me to change in my own life.

#1- Be careful of the labels you give to others. Names can be fun and playful, yet they can help someone develop and identity based on what others call them. For example, telling one of my children they are acting like a brat or a snot could possibly lead to them thinking that is how others view them. Or calling someone a jerk or that they’re being stupid can never be helpful. While their behavior seems to warrant such labels, the labels themselves can in no way benefit the hearer.

God’s response: if you’re going to ascribe a label to someone, make sure it is a good one that helps to reveal the person He made them to be. Labels can call someone up to greater things and should never be used to beat someone down.

#2- making unhelpful statements or asking pointless questions. When someone does something, it doesn’t make matters better to say, “how could you do that?” Or another one I’ve used many times with my children, “what were you thinking?” Embedded in the questions themselves is a subtle yet blasting indictment of shame.

God’s response: why not ask questions that will point them to me.

Because words are so powerful, it should be something we think about, and more importantly, pray about a lot. Call it walking on egg shells, or call it plain wisdom. The person who is careless with their words simply cares more about themselves and the expression of their own emotions than how they impact those around them. Here are some helpful verses and what God has taught me through them:

Proverbs 15:4, 16:24, 17:27, and 18:21 – words can bring life or death to someone. So speak life. (Awesome Toby Mac song). They can actually be a tree of life and bring healing to others.

Ephesians 4:29 – the only words that should come out of my mouth are those that are helpful to others.

Matthew 15:18-19 and Luke 6:45 – my words are a mirror of what is in my heart.

Colossians 4:6 – my words need to be full of grace.

Let’s be game changers with our words. No longer will frustration and inpatients dominate our speech. We can bring life and healing and so we shall!