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

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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

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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!

Toxic Thoughts

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This world offers a lot of opportunities to add toxic things to our lives. From food to entertainment, we are faced with a barrage of choices. You don’t have to go far, often just the click of a remote or mouse, and your being filled with things that not only don’t benefit you, but can even tear away at you emotionally and spiritually. Over the next few posts, I’d like to share with you my journey through detoxing my life. A lot of what I will be sharing started three years ago when I went through a devotional on the youversion Bible app. While the journey to detoxify started way earlier, this devotion helped me to target areas of my life in a very specific way.

The mind is definitely the control center of our bodies. When it’s shorting out, the rest of us is out of whack too. I’ve experienced that far too often. That’s why this first post is all about the toxic thoughts I’ve had to battle with and how God has been helping me through it. I’m not going to share all of it but a few of the big struggles.

#1- I constantly battle with thinking that it is all up to me to provide for our family.

God’s response: I am the one that had and always will be your source of provision. The pressure is off.

#2- Thoughts of always needing to be productive with my time otherwise it’s a waste.

God’s response: some of the most productive time is spent at rest, and in prayer, and alone with me doing nothing but sitting at my feet.

#3- Feelings of being overwhelmed, exhausted, and stretched too thin.

God’s response: Let me renew you each day. Focus more of that energy on me. Do more of the things that bring you into my presence.

In reading my top three, it’s probably clear to you that my problems were all related. The object goal of my life was way out of order. I have always had to wade through having a scattered mind. I have ADHD so my mind is always in overdrive. That makes it difficult sometimes to slow down. I need to have a goal…a destination…to keep me zeroed in. Otherwise, I’m all over the place. My goals have been providing for my family, being the best husband and father I can be, doing the best at teaching and my business, and being there for others. I’m not saying that those are bad goals, but none of them deserve the top spot on my priority list. That was my biggest fault. I was, and sometimes still do, miss out on the biggest object goals of my life. Here are some verses that have helped me refocus and ones I still fall back on nearly every day. You might want to read the verses for yourself because I’m just sharing what they tell me about where I am in life.

Matthew 6:33 tells me that the object goal of life is pursuing His kingdom and His righteousness before all else. God is the one who then adds to all of our needs.

Matthew 11:28-30 says that the object goal of life is Christ. Learning from and following Him gives us rest from life’s heaviest burdens.

Psalm 18:31-32 tells me to look to God who will give me strength, direction, and place me where I need to be.

Psalm 62:1-2 encourages me to wait and stand firm in God knowing that He provides salvation and defends me.

Psalm 127:1-2 says that the object goal is to partner with God and what He is doing in this world, not to continually strive on my own. Then He prospers my way and gives me rest.

Isaiah 40:28-31 reminds me of where my strength and endurance comes from…a life focused on God.

The mind is a minefield that can easily spell disaster each day we wade through our thoughts. They fuel insecurities and motivations. As the saying goes, “as a man thinks, so he is.” What better to think about than God? What better to think about than His purpose in my life? He has to be where our minds go first and most often. That’s the best way to detoxify our minds.

Where does your thought life take you? How has God encouraged you? I’d love to hear your story. Please comment and share so we can all be encouraged. Cheers!

The Depths of your Loyalty

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A couple of weeks ago, I was reading an article from Voice of the Martyrs, and as it almost always does, the article tested my faith. Many of you reading this may be familiar with Pastor Richard Wurmbrand. Voice of the Martyrs stems from his work and devotion to spreading the gospel in hostile places. He spent his life discipling others to do the same. Much of his time was spent in Eastern Europe in what was known as the Soviet Block. Communism had taken the area by storm following the end of World War II and faith was starved by the new atheistic regimes. One evil, nazism, had been replaced with another. But faith outlasts fear and hatred. No manner of method used by the enemies of Christ has ever been successful in defeating the devoted. That is a lesson that Mr. Wurmbrand tried to teach his young patrons in this excerpt from the article I read.

The twelve students stood with their pastor along the fence. On the other side was a large ditch, beyond which was an opening to a manmade cave. A large lion paced back and forth in front of the cave’s opening. Their pastor said, “Your forefathers were thrown before such wild beasts for their faith. Know that you also will have to suffer. You will not be thrown before lions, but you will have to suffer at the hands of men who would be much worse than these animals. Decide here and now whether you wish to pledge allegiance to Christ.” The students looked at each other. Before them stood their pastor, Richard Wurmbrand, a man who had spent fourteen years in prison for his work in the underground church. This was the pastor’s last week in Romania, for he and his family had been ransomed from their homeland and would be leaving within a few days. Richard didn’t know if his Sunday school students would suffer under the brutal hand of atheistic Communists, but he wanted to implant a faith that would survive the harshest trials. So he had brought the students to the local zoo to see the lions. Although young, the students fully understood what their pastor meant. With tears, they answered resolutely, “We pledge our allegiance to Christ.”

Decide here and now whether you wish to pledge allegiance to Christ. Wow. I have never been confronted with that proposal in such a way. When I was a child deciding to give my life to Jesus, it wasn’t a matter of life or death. No one ever explained to me that there was so much hate in the world and that people might actually want me in prison, tortured, or killed because of what I believe in. Those are realities I’ve had to learn as I’ve grown up and grown in the faith. I use to have dreams where I was tied up and threatened to renounce my faith or die. I always woke up before the dream played itself out. What I was left with was wondering about just how deep my loyalties are. My life matters less to me than my allegiance to Christ. But what about my wife’s life? Or my children? I have been so privileged to grow up in a nation that acknowledges the right of every human being to choose their beliefs. That is a God-given right of free will. But what if that wasn’t the case any longer? As the world grows more hostile towards Jesus and towards set truth, difficult choices will probably have to be made. For the follower of Jesus, nothing can take precedent over their allegiance to their Savior. It is best to do the hard reflecting now for we may all have to face the day of decision. We need to teach our children to do the same. Jesus over everything!

*This is dedicated to all our brothers and sisters around the world who wage the spiritual war every day. We stand with you in prayer and acknowledge your great courage. You inspire us all.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Colossians 3:1-4 ESV

Restoration

Over the last couple of months, I have been working on restoring a couple of World War Two era bayonets. It’s quite the process so I have to work on it when I can. It’s not like I’m ever going to strap these to a rifle and go charging into battle. I’m doing it because there’s something about taking an old, discarded, and damaged item and making it like new and valuable again.

I drive down the road most days and see sweet rides from the 1960s, 1950s, and even older. They aren’t rattling down the street losing parts as they go. No, they’ve been rebuilt, polished, and repaired. They look as though they just rolled off the lot.

I’ll think inside of everyone, there is a heart that greatly appreciates restoration. It’s human nature to want to see things made new. Not everyone will go through the process of restoring an object, but the appreciation is there nonetheless. And I think it’s written into the design of every image-bearing human being because of Who we’re made to reflect.

“And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”” Revelation‬ ‭21:5‬ ‭ESV

God is a God of new beginnings. The entire Bible is a story about restoring the world back to its original design, before sin messed it all up. It’s also about restoring humans back to our original purpose before sin led us astray. We appreciate restoration so much because deep down we long for it to be real inside of us and in the world around us. It’s part of the mission we’re invited into. You don’t even have to be a believer in Jesus to feel it. But the desire broadens to so many more areas and goes to so many deeper levels when you are.

Restoration is in our hearts because our hearts need it so much. That is the offer in the life with Jesus. He takes the old, imperfect, broken, and discarded you, and makes you whole again. He fills the voids, polishes the edges, and refines the character. Jesus, and Jesus only, can make us new. And newness is what we all need.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians‬ ‭5:17‬ ‭ESV‬‬