Selective Love

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“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.  And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount.  But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

Luke 6:27-36 (ESV)

For nearly a two year period, my wife and I had the tremendous honor to be welcomed into a small sphere of the local homeless population where we live. We were not homeless ourselves which made this experience even more meaningful. For the first five or six months it wasn’t an easy undertaking but it was incredible. We met so many new people and heard exciting and heart breaking stories. But we noticed that many of the church fold coming down to help were not responding in the same way. In fact, some of the comments we heard from the Christian servants there were so sad. The three that stood out the most were:

“This just isn’t my thing.”

“I don’t feel called to this.”

“I can’t serve people who aren’t grateful for it.”

The people who made comments like these came and went. For some of them I’m sure they came in the first place to quill some guilt in their hearts or check off another ‘to-do’ item on their Christian servant list. If these weren’t bad enough, we even received warnings from people who told us to think twice about helping the homeless because they could have a bad influence on us.

Over the next several months we went to their camp where we’d eat food, talk about Jesus, and have conversation. I would like to tell you that they all dedicated their lives to Christ and turned their lives around, but that isn’t how it played out. There were many tears shed and there was repentance and lots of prayer, but all but two of those men and women remained on the streets. So the question becomes, is it worth it? Was it a waste of time?

I believe most people would look at that and say that those of us who served threw away those two years. And that is the attitude that I think Jesus is addressing in our focus passage for chapter five. There is something in the fallen human condition that functions on the principle if reciprocity.

Reciprocity is defined as, “the quality or state of being reciprocal:  mutual dependence, action, or influence: a mutual exchange of privileges.”

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Reciprocity is the enemy of true love. Many relationships die out of self-pity due to one party believing they’re giving more than the other and not receiving back what they think is owed to them. For our service and love to be sincere, we must eradicate any presence of self-entitlement. No relationship can flourish with a ‘what can I get out of this’ mentality. For us to serve and love how Christ called us to means we have to first break the cycle of reciprocity in our lives.

In Luke chapter 6, Jesus is basically saying that if your love is based on return than you’re no different from anyone else. You don’t have to be a believer in Jesus to love but the kind of love that He calls us to is way beyond how worldly love operates. Christians and non-Christians alike, love those whom they receive love from, but Jesus says there’s more…a whole lot more…to love than that. Jesus actually says our love isn’t genuine until we can love the following:

  1. Our Enemies (verse 27)
  2. Those who hate us (verse 27)
  3. Those who curse us (verse 28)
  4. Those who abuse us (verse 28)
  5. Those who strike us (verse 29)
  6. Those who exploit and steal from us (verses 29 and 30)
  7. Those in need who can’t repay (verse 30)

Love is the key marker for how Christ’s followers stand out from the crowds. For our love to stand out it must be as obvious a contrast as light is from darkness. God’s grace would not be exceptional if it was only for those who were great and lovable. God’s grace becomes amazing when we realize He loves us even though the best of us are wretched sinners. If we are going to stand out and bring glory to God’s name by how we live, we cannot be selective in who we love.

For  more, come check out the book!

Peace and Blessings in Christ!

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Truth vs. Tradition

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Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”

Matthew 15:1-9 (ESV)

We all have traditions whether they be cultural, national, family, or even personal. Traditions are generally passed down to us from those who have gone before us. I would even argue that many of the origins of our traditions are not even known by many of those practicing them. Does that matter? Well, I happen to think it does and I know I’m not alone.

Traditions generally seem harmless and often center on some sort of celebrations. Family and personal traditions are far less likely to have drifted far from their original purpose and meaning, but how about cultural and national ones? Do you know why we have candles on birthday cakes or a best man in a wedding ceremony? The candles originated from the ancient Greeks as a sign of sacrifice and dedication to Artemis, goddess of the moon. The Best Man position dates back centuries to when a marriage was more of a financial arrangement. He was considered the Groom’s best swordsman and his job was to prevent anything or anyone from interjecting in the ceremony. Of course, many cultures have adapted these practices, and many others, to new meanings. I would even venture to predict that the majority of cultural and national traditions held today have ancient roots that are either sinister or revolve around the worship of a false deity.

I know what some people who read this are already thinking. So what? Who cares where traditions come from? I am not saying that you shouldn’t light up pretty candles for your child’s birthday cake because thousands of years ago ancient Greeks worshiped a false deity with the same practice. Nor do I want to dissect our way of life and call us to abandon it all. What I am saying is that it’s not a bad idea to know where our traditions come from, most importantly, when it comes to the traditions within our Christian life of worship. Traditions for fun are one thing. Traditions for worship are a whole other world. The ‘new’ information I alluded to at the beginning of this chapter revolved around that exact topic…ways we worship and honor God.

Holiday: Old English hāligdæg, translated ‘holy day’.

 New Oxford American Dictionary

Many of our nation’s traditions are highly laden with pagan and spiritual undertones that were designed at worshiping false gods thousands of years ago. Our two most beloved holidays are no exception. This may be a shock but Christmas and Easter are both riddled with paganism. I’m not talking about how they’ve been polluted over time, but rather they originated as pagan rituals. That was a very hard discovery for me to make. For most of my life my year revolved around Christmas, Easter, and my birthday. No one was a bigger fan of those days than me. But when the veil was removed from my eyes about where those days came from, I was wrecked. This post isn’t a place to reveal the many proofs behind what i’m saying. Chapter four of my book goes into a lot of detail on the subject. I’m sure that you may have even been exposed to some of the information already. Just to give you an idea though, nearly ever single tradition connected to the two days were designed to admonish a false god in the past. Yikes!

So why do I make a point in telling you all of this? For one reason: Jesus is a big deal. He’s the biggest deal, and worshipping Him is never a light or unimportant matter. Neither are His commands. In verse three of Matthew 15, Jesus presents two waring objects: the commands of God and the traditions of men. Keep in mind, the Pharisees and Scribes whom He’s addressing were the religious people of the day in Israel. They were the ones who believed that they worshipped God properly and were the most knowledgeable about God’s written word to date. The scribe’s main job was to write and rewrite the Torah and other scrolls over and over. So you better believe they knew what it said. For us today, we could easily, and rightly should, put those who proclaim allegiance to Christ in the same figurative boat with the Pharisees and Scribes of old. What I mean is, Christians claim they worship the one true God correctly as did the Pharisees and Scribes. So by default, when Christian tradition is adverse to Jesus and His commands, it is opposed to everything our life is meant to be about as Christians.

Any time our traditions come under fire we can easily feel insulted or accused even. However, the idea for every person who confesses Christ, is to live a life of worship and praise to His glory. Right? Sometimes that means taking a good hard look at our most cherished traditions. So why am I picking on tradition so much? Well, perhaps it’s because it so often distracts us from the pure worship of God. Traditions are man-made, usually with the purpose of making us comfortable in the pursuit of God. Traditions have also been used by a small minority to have a sense of control over the masses.

Churches have been inundated by false man-made traditions and teachings. For example, in some churches you can’t take part in communion unless you are a member of their church. Some places hold to the teaching that you have to confess to a priest and he can absolve you of your sins. Some people actually believe, and teach, that if you’re not speaking in tongues you’re not saved. Traditions are empty in comparison to the life God has called us to live, and most dangerous of all, traditions can contradict the word of God. Scary!

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.  God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 

John 4:23-24 (ESV)

Man-made doctrines and traditions of worship are vanity. God doesn’t say to worship me as you please but worship me in Spirit and in truth.  This is the truth of the bible, not of churches, or of human tradition, or of worldly knowledge. If we are not careful or watchful we can easily be taken captive to empty traditions and false teachings and practices that tickle our fancy and play to our desires and comforts.

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirit of the world, and not according to Christ.

Colossians 2:8 (ESV)

 

Follow the Leader

31Wci55k5UL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like:  he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.”

                                                                        -Luke 6:46-49 (ESV)

We can all be inspired by stories, movies, music, etc…but inspiration can fade. We can be moved to tears or even moved to action, but inspiration rarely lasts. Think of a movie, book, or testimony that inspired you. Think of one that emotionally moved you. Now think about how many of those are still affecting how you live your life today in a big way. I’m willing to bet, not many. The reason why is that inspiration is mostly surface deep, unless it gives way to being captivated. Chapter three of the book draws out the comparisons between inspiration and captivation and how that defines how we relate to people and things in our lives.

The question that Jesus poses in verse 46 of Luke chapter 6, is not one that suggests a lack of inspiration on behalf of the audience He’s addressing. Look no further than the title prescribed to Jesus by His audience. They called Him Lord, and that was not a title to be taken lightly. We give lordship to things or people that captivate us. Whether it’s an addiction, a near and dear possession, or a relationship, we place priority and power in the hands of that which has stolen our hearts. Giving lordship to anything other than Jesus is summed up by saying we prefer the flesh over the Spirit. And anything and anyone who takes preference over Him has more authority in our lives than He does.

By nature, humans gravitate towards submission. Sound crazy? Think about it. We either submit ourselves to our own selfish desires, to cultural norms, to a relationship, to money, to fame, or we submit ourselves to Christ. No matter the choice we make, it’s a choice of submission. We submit to holiness or worldliness. Romans chapter six describes it as either being a slave to sin or a slave to righteousness.

The title of Christian means to be of Christ or to follow Christ. In all actuality, this is a title that is demonstrated by a person’s life, not given to them by someone else or even by themselves. This isn’t about the age old debate of faith-based vs. works-based salvation. It’s not really a debate though. The bible never says that a person in saved by works. It does say all throughout that faith is what saves us. As a result of our faith we are driven into a deeper pursuit of Christ. That’s where the works play themselves out. Has anyone ever told you to love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life? It’s the same with following Jesus. We love Him and love following Him so it ceases to be about doing work and is more like doing what we love for Who we love. Christ becomes Lord and leader of our life. Our life then becomes about following The Leader.

Follow Him because He is a way better leader than we could ever be.

Peace and blessings in Christ!

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Galatians 2:20 (ESV) 

Finding Faith

31Wci55k5UL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

-Mark 4:35-41 (ESV)

Faith has become somewhat of an obscure word. If you were to ask ten people what it means, you may get nearly ten varying answers as to what the specifics of the word are. Even so, one common thread that you may see in those responses is the notion of trust. Another key element to defining faith has to be belief. In fact, belief must precede trust for this system of faith to work itself out. A third partner in the faith family is often the most forgotten. That element is action. Faith is one of the most important aspects of human life. Because it’s so important, we need desperately to know what it means. Chapter two of the book takes a deep look at the meaning of the word faith from multiple sources and how it plays out in the people of the bible as well as our own lives.

How we meet circumstances in life will depend on who we believe Jesus to be and whether we believe He cares for us or not. Have you ever uttered variations of these statements:

“God has bigger things to worry about than what I’m dealing with.”

“Why should God help me through this?”

“Where was God when  __(fill in the blank)__ happened?”

I read a blog post one time that said (my paraphrase) that doubt is what leads us to God and that we should embrace our doubt. It went on to propose that our doubt deepens our relationship with Christ. I had to read and reread their statements a few times because I thought that I might have made a mistake because these statements couldn’t be further from the truth. Doubt is the exact 180 degree opposite of faith. Doubt is the result of disavowing the Lordship of Christ. Doubt says that Christ is powerless and indifferent. Doubt drives us deeper into our own insecurities and further from the freedom that an intimate relationship with Jesus produces. Doubt cripples and paralyzes while faith heals and moves us.

Not only do we need faith that Christ is with us in all circumstances, we also need to believe and trust in His caring nature towards us. To find assurance of that we need not look beyond the cross, where Christ’s great love for humanity was at its greatest. We have an amazing savior who loves us way more than we can imagine and more than we ever give Him credit for. That truth was not yet fully realized by His disciples as they crossed the sea with Him. And perhaps His love hasn’t been fully realized by so many of us today.

You need not every doubt Jesus’ goodness towards you.

Peace and blessings to you all in Christ Jesus our Lord

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

-Romans 5:6-8 (ESV)

 

Who is this?

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Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

                                              -Matthew 16:13-18 (ESV)

Chapter one of the book targets the most fundamental question for every human being: who is Jesus? It is so important because it will literally influences everything about a person’s life, both now and after they are gone. I spoke a lot on this topic in a post back in April of 2016 during the time I was beginning the writing process on the book.

The book is meant to engage the reader into a conversation with the living Christ. Sounds heavy right? It is! But how can anyone have a conversation with someone they don’t know? In order to have a conversation with anyone, it is important to know who it is you’re talking with and that’s what this first chapter is all about.

Much of what people initially form their opinions on is what those around them have expressed. Our understanding of who Jesus is, in most cases, originate in what we were taught by others whether they were our parents, friends, movies, stories, a missionary, etc…It’s decision time for all of us. Who is Jesus? Most people in the world, despite their beliefs, have good things to say about Him. But good isn’t good enough. Jesus had a lot to say about His own identity. We have to decide who Jesus is, not based on what people say, but on what Jesus Christ Himself said. Our life experience can’t dictate who He is, He does. Instead, our life experiences are meant to be dictated by who He is.

Labeling Jesus with any less of an identity than who He truly is, would strip Him of His credibility. If He was lying, then He cannot be good. If He was telling the truth, then He has to be God. When we view Jesus as the bible teaches, as God has shown, and as Jesus taught and demonstrated, we will turn our attention to living for godly things. Our purpose becomes about pleasing God and not ourselves. Our decisions get weighed against the truths that Jesus taught and lived out during His stay on planet Earth. We start to live our lives as though Jesus is our everything and we owe everything to Him.

Do you know the real Jesus?

God bless brothers and sisters! Come explore more with me if you’d like.

 

 

My new book is out!

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Book cover by Matt Scofield, Copyright 14k Media

Today is the release date for a project that has been underway for nearly two years. A huge thanks to all the encouragement from my wife, family, and friends who helped me along this journey. The book is currently available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble as well as an e-version on Kindle and Nooks.

Here’s a basic synopsis of the book if you’d like to have a read:

Asking questions was central to the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Jesus used questioning so much that sometimes He even preferred answering questions with a question of His own. In context, these questions are directed to the religious leaders of the time, His disciples, and the on-looking crowds. On a much grander scale, Jesus asks these questions as if He is having a one-on-one conversation with you and me thousands of years later. This book is going to help you get face-to-face with the Savior of World. He has asked questions that cut to the heart of our fears, our hopes, and our imaginations. Throughout this book you will be met with ten of Christ’s questions. They will act as a mirror into your motives, your wounds, your relationships, and your deepest desires. Keep a bible handy. You’ll be needing it a lot!

“My [Jesus] sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”

John 10:27

I would love for you to pick up a copy and to hear your feedback. I hope that it blesses you as much as the Lord has blessed me through the process of writing it. The whole purpose behind this project is to reach the world with the Gospel message which is so way beyond good news! God bless you in Christ, my brothers and sisters!