Life of Struggle

Have you ever thought that life is a struggle no matter what stage you’re in? And it seems to be a struggle for the same thing. Think about it. No matter if you’re a toddler or teenager, 39 or 93, freedom is always something we strive for. Granted, that struggle looks different depending on our age and circumstances. However, freedom seems to be at the core of it all.

When we are small, we rely on our parents for everything. As we grow, we seek ways to be released from the constraints that come along with being a child. We want to make more of our own decisions. We want to try new things, oftentimes even if it goes against our parent’s guidance.

When we move into adulthood, we gain freedom in a much larger measure. What comes with that is a much larger degree of responsibility. Balancing those responsibilities with our new found freedoms can be a real challenge. New obstacles lay in the way. Jobs, bills, opportunities or the lack thereof, Our struggle is not so much to gain freedom, as when we were a child, but to secure it. This freedom also looks different. We don’t exactly have parents telling us what we can and can’t do, we have other obstacles doing that. We get busy making sure the electricity stays on, there’s a roof over our heads, there are clothes on our kid’s backs and food in their tummies. If we aren’t careful, we begin to see these as burdens and get bogged down.

Late in life (granted I am not there yet and this is purely from observation), it seems to be a battle to hold on to that freedom. Again, this freedom looks different and the struggle does too. We try to hold on to that freedom of mobility. Our diet becomes more constrained. Our activities slowly become more limited. Our bodies don’t heal like they used to. Freedom seems to slowly fade away.

The good news is that our lives don’t have to be this way. Not to say that there won’t be challenges. Because there certainly will be. We will be constrained. We won’t be able to do all that we plan or hope for. But, we will be free in the best possible way. And even in our limitations, we can find freedom. You see, all the freedoms I listed above are merely physical ones. But in the struggle for those freedoms, we end up imprisoned emotionally and mentally. Which, in the long run, will strip us of physical freedoms as well.

The path to freedom has already been laid out for us. We don’t need to pave the way for ourselves. Freedom can be experienced regardless of circumstances. Sure, we may not have all the money we would like. We may not be able to go on the trips we want to. But we can be free from the big things. Like worry, stress, fear, and sin. Those things cripple even the wealthy. It doesn’t matter how privileged someone is, or even if they are their own boss, you’re not free if you’re burdened with stress and sin. Humanity has a tendency to put the shackles on themselves. We put ourselves in cells of fear. In our struggle for freedom, we end up with far less.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

John 10:10 NIV

Jesus came into this world to provide the most important form of freedom…from ourselves. We strive and we strive but it was never meant to be that way. The life we seek is the life Jesus wants to give us. The problem is we do some much to run after an opposite life. Our comfort becomes the priority. Our goals become paramount. The liberty to choose what is good for us is as age-old as the garden in which the enemy of our souls first lured Adam and Eve away from God’s plan. But freedom is not found in the struggle, but in the surrender. Instead of trying to dictate so much of our lives, we need to be lead by Him. Plus our souls are free in Christ. All else are fringe benefits.

The life of the Christian is one that seeks the freedom, not of oneself, but of others. The best way is ultimately through a relationship with Jesus. We can look less to our 401k and more to the homeless man on the street. We can put less thought into that new (you fill in the blank) and more time praying for those in desparate need. We can allow ourselves to get uncomfortable in order to bring comfort to others. Freedom is found, not in viewing ourselves as the center of the universe, but as a part of it meant to bring a piece of God’s kingdom closer to home for anyone we can. Bring on the constraints. We go forward to make Him known. Come what may, the Lord will be our guide and our provider. Therein lies freedom.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

2 Corinthians 3:17 CSB

Peace in Christ brothers and sisters.

God’s Redemptive Love Part IV: Joseph

Joseph and his brothers

I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life…

Genesis 45:4-5 NKJV

The Old Testament is full of major moves of redemption. God was constantly working things out as His creation was busy messing things up. Today’s focus is yet another example. The story of Joseph is such an amazing portrayal of God’s redemptive love. The opening verse alone depicts God’s master plan for the redemption of His people, in spite of their wrongful actions. The full story extends over 14 chapters making it one of the biggest stories in the Bible. If you want to read it in its entirety, check out Genesis 37-50.

The tremendous faith that Joseph demonstrated even as he was sold by his brothers into slavery and cast into prison shows the power of relying on God’s redemptive plan in our own personal lives. Knowing that our circumstances do not dictate whether or not God loves us and cares for our lives, by trusting in the fact that God works all things out for good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28).  Understanding this story can help us to realize that even in the most difficult of times in our lives, God could be working out His salvation story, for us, and for others as well. God saved His people once more, despite their mistakes, in order to preserve their lives. No matter our mistakes up to this point, God is extending His hand, asking for all our hearts, because of His unfailing love. No matter what others have done to you, God can turn things around. We find this ultimate redemption in Jesus. Though we slay Him, He loves us. Though our sins put Him on the cross, He loves us. Though we mess up time and time again, He is always there. Just as Joseph extends grace to his brothers, much more does Jesus show unfailing grace towards us.

How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

Psalm 36:7 NIV

Peace in Christ brothers and sisters

Am I Paul or Saul

Few people in the Bible undergo such a powerful transformation as Saul of Tarsus. He goes from being a villain to a superhero of the faith. And just like all the other people of the Bible narrative, we are meant to learn from his story. We can use the life of Bible characters as a mirror into our own souls. So let’s do that. Let’s ask the question: am I Paul or a Saul?

As you most likely know, Saul’s identity changes from Saul to that of Paul. Initially, Saul is a man who can be characterized as zealous for the things of God. That is one trait that never changes. However, the way in which He is zealous does change. Most of what we know about Saul of Tarsus is that he was driven to destroy the following of Jesus, even if that meant murder. Of course, Saul would not have considered it murder, but murderers rarely do. He was a man who attempted to keep the letter of the law. But in doing so, it never penetrated to his heart. Saul, like many, was religious outwardly, yet cold inwardly. Saul’s motivation was for a code, a set of laws, with little to no regard for the meaning behind the laws. His so-called love for God didn’t translate to his love for others. A clear contradiction that should alarm anyone of the faith. He idealized the image that Jesus spoke against when addressing the Pharisees, Sadducees, and teachers of the law. They were white-washed tombs. Beautiful on the outside yet full of dead men’s bones. Saul was full of pride, angry, and vengeful. But all of that would change.

When Saul met Jesus on the road to Damascus (to imprison or even have followers of Jesus killed) his life was turned on its head (see Acts 9). This experience brought with it a crucial lesson, that Saul (now Paul) would never forget. The physical blindness that Paul experienced was a clear representation of his spiritual blindness. His complete powerlessness and dependency on others brought about a humility that would utterly reshape his life. As I mentioned before, Paul would remain zealous after his transformation. But instead of going a manhunt throughout the near east to have people arrested or to oversee their executions, he would go on a different sort of manhunt. Paul turned his passion for God into a deep desire to see salvation spread. Instead of condemning people, he sought to see people set free. Instead of judging harshly, he preached love and sacrifice for the needs of others. Instead of living a self-focused ‘religious’ life, he lived one absent of self, fully committed to making Jesus known. Instead of living as a hypocrite before the law, Paul would walk in the freedom Christ brings, demonstrating what a resurrected and born-again life can look like.

When I look closely at the life of Saul becoming Paul, I have to ask myself, which one am I more like? We all have areas of pride and hypocrisy. We all have moments of being judgmental and cold. We all have times we care a little too much about how others view us rather than nurturing our hearts. But…are those exceptions or more of the rule? It all begins with an honest and humble approach to the question. Since humility is the root of a sincere heart. In his address to the Romans, Paul mentioned being a living sacrifice. In his letter to the Galatians, he said that he no longers exists but only Christ who lives in him. When writing to the Colossians, Paul said that Christ is our very life and that everything we do and say should be done for Jesus. And the reality is, that Paul lived that out. Saul’s life was full of Saul. Paul’s life was full of Jesus. And the contrast couldn’t have been more obvious. If my life is more about myself than it is about Jesus, then the answer has already been provided. Lord, may the scales fall from our eyes just as they did for Saul. May humility increase as we diminish and Jesus takes the spotlight in our lives.

Peace in Christ brothers and sisters

Have you ever?

Have you ever been last to be called on, the last one possible, overlooked, or felt invisible?

Have you ever been disregarded or cast aside? Have you ever been told you’re not good enough no matter how hard you’ve tried?

Have you ever been abandoned or rejected; used or exploited?

For those in the shadows, the brokenhearted, and downcast. There is one who doesn’t look at you last. One who loves you, regardless of your past.

You have been chosen, wanted, despite all of your shame. He reaches through all of your pain, sees you for who you are, and calls you by name.

Hear that sweet sound that whispers, once you were lost but now you are found. Your life is defined because I have made you mine.

Have you ever felt that sweet embrace? So sweet and powerful it wipes away all of your disgrace?

Have you ever felt too lost, too distant, too hurt to pray? Lift your head weary wanderer, He’s running your way.

God’s Redeeming Love Part III: Abraham

As we work our way through the Old Testament, we’re looking at acts of God’s redemption towards broken humanity. I feel it important to address those claims that some (even Christians) have made about God being different in the Old Testament then he was in the New Testament. Because we believe that Jesus is the exact imprint and expression of God, we know that the life of Jesus shows the heart of God. Because we know that Jesus demonstrated love and sacrificed Himself for humanity, we can know that God is in all of that. Jesus is God in the flesh. Because of that, everything Jesus did, God did. We have to remember that it is God who redeemed the world, and He did so in many ways before coming to Earth in Jesus. Today’s story is still early in the book of Genesis.

Now the Lord had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Genesis 12:1-3 (NKJV)

At the age of 75 Abram (Abraham) departed from his home, the only place he had ever known, to follow the Lord on a journey that would change the future of mankind. The place Abraham was leaving was in the heart of the Babylonian Empire. This empire was the origin of corrupt pagan tradition first established by Nimrod and his wife, the source of the modern false religions. It is truly amazing that God would look at this place and call out a remnant from among them, especially one that will be the patriarch of God’s people. Rather than allow mankind to remain subjugated to the rebellion of this land, God chose redemption. God chose to bring goodness out of evil and light out of darkness. God has made a way for us to escape the sin of this world out of His immense love for us. He will never leave us or forsake us but rather, He will call us out of the mess we’re in, and place us in a land of freedom.

And the Lord said to Abram… “Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are—northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever. And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered.

Genesis 13:14-16 (NKJV)

Peace in Christ brothers and sisters.

Uplook vs. Outlook

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 2:5

This post is inspired by a recent story I read from the Voice of the Martyrs. As usual, I read it at an opportune time. God ordained moments. I hope that this story inspires you as well.

We pick in Romania, many years ago, during an era of extreme persecution towards Christians. A man by the name of Florea had been arrested simply for his faith in Christ. As a follower of Jesus, it was important for him to honor the Sabbath. However, that was problematic, for prisoners did not get a day of rest. They were required to work, every day. Florea stood his ground on his convictions and refused to work. I would love to say that the prison guards honored his faith and passion and made an exception for him. But communism makes no room for Jesus or his followers. So a stand for Jesus meant extreme repercussions.

The Romanian prisoners were forced to labor every day, but each Sabbath Florea refused. For his refusal, the guards routinely beat him so bad he lost the use of his arms and legs. He could only move his head. Because he could no longer labor, Florea was forced to sit in his cell all day long. He had to rely on other prisoners to feed him. In spite of his situation, Florea was not downcast. When other prisoners would complain about their situation, Florea would encourage them. “If the outlook is bad,” he would say, “try the ‘uplook.’ When Stephen was stoned, he looked up and saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God. This comforted Stephen’s heart, and it will comfort yours too.” He encouraged his fellow prisoners not to “look out” to their circumstances but to “look up” at Jesus. One of Florea’s fellow prisoners was Richard Wurmbrand, who was released from the prison and found Florea’s nine-year-old son. He told him what a blessing his father had been in prison. The boy smiled and replied, “I would like to become a sufferer and encourager for Christ as my father has been.”

Voice of the Martyrs

There are no guarantees of circumstances, even for the Christian. We are not promised a nice home, a perfect family, good health, or a living wage. Instead, a Christian is a person with a certain attitude toward any and all circumstances. A person’s attitude makes the difference, regardless of circumstances. A heavenly attitude focuses on God’s presence amid trials. Fixating on our hardships distracts us from a heavenly outlook. We feel burdened. Depressed. Hopeless. Fearful. In contrast, a godly outlook on our troubles brings confidence that God is at work. We relax in God’s presence, waiting to see how he will work out our concerns. Are you undergoing a trial right now? Are you focused on the waves crashing around you or Jesus walking on the water towards you? Let’s stop focusing on the outlook and give the uplook a try.

Peace in Christ brothers and sisters.

Live Ready

This is a look at the last public teaching that Jesus gave before going to the cross. He did this, like usual, through the use of parables. And in many cases, Jesus used multiple parables to teach the same principle. He did this with the parables of the lost coin, lost sheep, and the prodigal son. We see Him doing it again with another trifecta of parables. In your Bible they are probably labeled as the parables of the 10 virgins, the talents, and the sheep and goats. Before we start breaking these down, let’s take a little more look into the context of these teachings.

As I mentioned before, this is the last public message that Jesus taught before the last supper and his eventual betrayal in the Garden. Jesus delivers them following His return to Jerusalem. Starting back in chapter 21, Jesus goes into the temple and cleanses it from the ungodly practices of all the Passover vendors. After leaving, He would return to the temple in order to address the leaders and religious members of society. This is where He called out the hypocrisy of the teachers and pharisees of Israel and warned the people not to follow in their example. Once again, Jesus leaves the temple and begins His discourse on the end of the age. Also referred to as the “end times” or “second coming”. It is at this point that Jesus delivers these three connected stories.

In each illustration, Jesus divides people into one of two groups. There’s the Wise Virgins and the foolish virgins in the first parable He teaches. In the second, people are divided into the Good and Faithful Servants or the Wicked and Lazy Servant. And in the last parable He teaches the two divisions are the Sheep and the Goats. Let’s look at the distinction between them now.

1-Prepared vs unprepared: The wise virgins had enough oil. They were fully prepared and anticipated meeting the bridegroom. Same with the Good and Faithful Servants, who did the work and invested their effort to bring a profit to their existence that would please the master. For the sheep, Jesus provides specific examples of what it looks like to be prepared for His arrival, and how we can invest our faith to benefit others for His glory. They all included looking for the needs in others and doing our part to fill them. We have an abundance of hurting and broken people around us. We don’t have to look too far to find someone in need, physical or emotional. To be prepared is to live like Jesus did. To seek the lost and to give our lives away for the benefit of others. Oil is often used as a representation of the Holy Spirit. To be prepared then is to be filled with the Spirit and to live according to the spirit.

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:5-6‬ ‭ESV‬‬

2-Active vs. inactive: One key distinction between those who are looking for the return of Christ is how active they are. Life can easily get in the way but Jesus doesn’t take that as an excuse. No matter how busy we are, we are meant to do “everything” unto the Lord. Whether in word or deed. Family, work, hobbies…they shouldn’t get in our way of doing the things of the Lord, they should be all about doing the things of the Lord. That doesn’t mean we have to all be preachers, but we should all be preaching the gospel through our way of life and our words. We display Jesus at home, at work, and at play.

“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
‭‭Colossians‬ ‭3:17‬ ‭ESV‬‬

3-Bigger mission vs. self-centered mission: The wicked and lazy servant operated out of fear. The foolish virgins cared more about the load they carried and their convenience rather than being prepared. The Goats were doing everything to promote their own religiosity. God knows when we do things for Him and when we do things to promote ourselves. Jesus said to let our lights shine before men so that they will see them and glorify God in heaven. But so many do things so that they themselves will be glorified on earth. Fear won’t be an excuse. Convenience won’t be an excuse. And self-glorification certainly won’t be an excuse.

“But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”
‭‭Acts‬ ‭20:24‬ ‭ESV‬‬

4-A knowledge of Jesus vs. not really knowing Him: Paul said to live as wise and not as unwise, knowing the things that are pleasing to the Lord. Jesus wants us to be watching for Him and investing our lives in the lives of others. He wants us to live in a manner that points others in His directions. We all need to live less for ourselves and more for Him. Jesus tells each of the people in the negative category that He does not know them. Those are fearful words that none of us should ever want to hear. We all need to live for the future hope by leaving the best possible legacy now. We all need to pick up our cross and follow Him. He has made it possible for us to know Him. The question is, are we walking full on into His invitation?

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭5:15-17‬ ‭ESV‬‬

What is the overall purpose of these last few parables that Jesus teaches us? What is Jesus trying to get us to see? I believe He wants to leave us with a clear message of how to be prepared for His eventual return. These words are a gift to us. It’s His final reminder before He departs. It reminds me of the farewell address given by Moses at the conclusion of giving the law and before he went up the mountain with God to die. Laid before us is life and death. Jesus’ use of contrast imagery drives home the same message. The world’s only divided into two groups of people: those who know Him and those who don’t. In the end, that is all that will matter. Our socioeconomic status doesn’t matter. Nor does our bucket list. Our career path, net income, and accomplishments all fade away in light of what Jesus is really looking for in you and me. He wants to know us and be known by us.

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” John 10:27-28 ESV

He entreats us all to take the time to listen. Hear His voice calling you by name, telling you that you are loved, inviting you into His pasture, into the abundant way of life. Listen to the good shepherd guide you to the life of love and legacy.

Peace in Christ brothers and sisters.

God’s Redemptive Love Part II: Noah

“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. So the Lord said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord… Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God.”

Genesis 6:5-9 (NKJV)

In part two of the series, we are taking a look at the person of Noah. The story is one usually thought of as an act of judgement, but it is also one that shows God’s extreme love for mankind. I have heard many people view this story as one of God’s wrath and leave it at that. But when we look closely at this story we see redemption.

Imagine the pure evil and absolute corruption of man at the time of Noah and then ask yourself, “how much love does God have that He still wanted to redeem humanity after their complete abandonment of Him?” Honestly, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see a world that is so broken and corrupt and full of sin. We live in a world very much like that today. How could God still want humanity to find redemption? The answer is simple. His love is not human love but divine love. A love that is always trying to reconcile our hearts to His. A love that looks at an earth filled with total decay and depravity and does not give up. A love that would preserve a piece of His creation even when the creation wanted nothing to do with Him.

Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying: “And as for Me, behold, I establish My covenant with you and with your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you… Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

Genesis 9:8-11 (NKJV)

Noah and his family were not perfect. It wouldn’t take long for them to be impacted by the mark of sin that we all carry. But God still called them out. He still saved them. We too are imperfect and broken and should find encouragement in this story. God is calling us out of the fallen world to be a part of His new beginnings. We just have to get on the boat.

Peace in Christ brothers and sisters.

God’s Redemptive Love Part I: Adam and Eve

“Also for Adam and his wife the Lord God made tunics of skin, and clothed them.”

Genesis 3:21 (NKJV)

This is a new series that will highlight examples of God’s acts of redemption from the Old Testament. Many struggle with the view that God somehow changed once the New Testament period began. But as we know, this isn’t true. God has had a heart of compassion and love and a desire to redeem and save what is lost from the very beginning. Jesus is the greatest example of that. But the Bible is full of instances where God reached out to His creation in an act of grace. To begin, we start at the beginning.

The first recorded sacrifice for sin was made by God Himself. Once Adam and Even ate of the tree, once they had sinned and had become ashamed, once they had hidden themselves from God, The Lord intervened on their behalf. God made a sacrifice to cover their shame. They certainly didn’t deserve that, but neither do we.

From the moment of the first sinful act of mankind, God has been writing a story of redemption. God sees our sin, knows our brokenness, but seeks our hearts none the less. When we fall short, He comes through to save us. From the very beginning the Lord could’ve abandoned His fallen creation or left them to be ruled by darkness, but His love is too great for that. This marks only the beginning of God’s redemptive love. Even in our moments of our failure, God is intervening for us. Even when we attempt to hide ourselves or sin, God is seeking us out.

Peace in Christ brothers and sisters, and His great love for us.

Feeling Strong Today?

What makes a person strong? What makes you feel strong? How do we even gauge strength? Is there only physical strength? How about emotional strength? Maybe even spiritual strength? I used to measure strength by bench-press numbers and will power. But as time goes on, I realize there are much more accurate ways of understanding the strength of a person.

The book of Nehemiah details the return of Jewish exiles to Israel. It is a story of a struggle. A temple is rebuilt and a wall has been reconstructed around Jerusalem. But there is a lot remaining before life can possibly resemble normal. In this midst of the rebuilding process, the scriptures are rediscovered. A man by the name of Ezra will stand before the people and read from it. As he comes to a conclusion he sends the people out with this message:

Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Nehemiah 8:10 ESV

There it is. The answer. Our strength can be found in the joy that comes from the LORD. He is our strength. Being His, makes us strong. Being reminded of His goodness and favor throughout our lives makes us strong. We gain strength by knowing we aren’t abandoned, that we’re unconditionally loved, that we’re accepted and belong to a bigger story. Our strength comes in the joy we have in being free and cherished…always.

Uncertain times can’t shake us. Illness won’t destroy us. Financial struggles can’t break us. Discrimination won’t define us. The culture won’t alter us. We are His. There is no greater joy found in this life. And in that joy, we are strong to face the world. Are you walking in the joy of His salvation? Are you feeling strong today?

Peace and joy in Christ brothers and sister!