Enduring Love

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When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.”(This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

John 21:15-19 (ESV

In this final chapter of my book, I share more about my own story. It breaks down into four phases of my short 36 years of life. Some phases are longer than others. Some are more enjoyable to share. Others shed a dark shadow on years of my life. My story is one of redemption and grace. I am far from perfect, and still have my battles, but I have experienced God’s love and mercy and it is forever changing me.

In John 21, Jesus is speaking with Peter. Peter is no man of perfection or superstar disciple. In fact, Peter’s journey is not all that different from ours. He was an ordinary man with a common profession. Peter, also called Simon Peter, was a fisherman along with his brother and father (Mark 4:18-19). He did not have years of theological studies prior to following Jesus, but when Christ called him, he went. Later in the story, Peter will be standing before the council, in trouble for preaching the name of Jesus. The men of the council observe two things: his lack of schooling and he’d been with Jesus (Acts 4:13). Peter’s desire to walk with Jesus was all he needed to become a powerful witness for the gospel and that’s all we need too. That’s because the Holy Spirit turns ordinary people into emboldened disciples that can change the world.

This chapter details the life of Peter that we know from scripture and historical records. It all centers on that one conversation from John chapter 21. It’s a conversation that Jesus wants to have with each and every one of us. Come see how Jesus wants to draw you in with His love for you and invite you into a mission, a journey, a life’s purpose, that will fulfill your deepest needs.

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)

Get your copy online at Amazon or Barnes and Noble and join others who have been questioned by Christ!

Peace in Christ

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Prayer Warriors

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“Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

                                                                        Matthew 26:36-41 (ESV)

When my wife and I started dating we used to stay up all hours of the night watching movies or just talking. There were several occasions I can recall driving her home and knowing that I only had a few hours before I had to be ready to head to work that morning. But it was worth it. The sleep was not that important compared to spending the time with her. From the day we had started talking to one another, we never wanted to spend much time apart. The first time we hung out, a lunch date turned into nine hours of talking, reading silly books at a local bookstore, running to the pet store, and going to see what turned out to be a pretty lame movie. I’m not telling you my sappy love story to try to impress or brag but because this is what love can look like. I’m not for a moment pretending that we have it all figured out. We have our ‘stuff’. But what we do have, and really always have had, is connectivity.

I don’t know about you, but much of my life in pursuit of Christ has been a long shot from a good friendship and marriage. I have been a lousy friend to Him. In fact, if I were to treat my wife or any of my friends the way I have shown friendship to Jesus, they all would have dropped me long ago. Praise God that His friendship and devotion more than makes up for my failures. But that doesn’t allow me any excuse to not do my part. The connection I have with my wife should mirror the one that I have with Jesus. The connectivity and intimacy that I’m talking about can only be established through prayer.

The life of Jesus shows us what it’s like to want to be with God, even in seclusion. Never once does it say that Jesus prayed when He had a chance or when something came up. It doesn’t say that He set aside 10-15 minutes of morning and evenings to say His prayers. It doesn’t talk about having a little bit of quiet time with the Lord. Jesus’ life was a life of connectivity and intimacy. Jesus had a life of prayer, and He wants the same for us.

“And he (Jesus) came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour?”

Matthew 26:40 (ESV) [my emphasis]

My flesh says, “Give them a break Jesus.” They didn’t know what was about to happen plus they’ve been up all night already. But that’s just it. Our life in prayer, and in the Spirit, isn’t about our convenience, doing it when we feel like it, or knowing what lies ahead. If anything, prayer is not convenient, but just like spending time with my wife, I do it because I want to regardless of convenience. It was never convenient to stay up till 3 am and then go to work at 6:30 am. But I did it because I wanted to be with her. The same is true with prayer. We do it as often as we can no matter the time of day or what is going on because we want to be with God. More than that, we know we need to be with God.

What does it look like to live a life of prayer? We are at war for our entire life, but what does that exactly mean? What is at stake in this war? Can we really be so connected to Jesus? These questions and more are discussed in chapter nine of my book Questioned by Christ. You can check it out on Amazon or Barnes and Nobles.

God bless brothers and sisters!

Worn by Worry

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“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Matthew 6:25-33 (ESV)

The act of worrying begins and ends in the mind. And our minds are so smart that they can even create things for us to worry about. Have you ever been there? Jesus lists a few items in verse 25 of Matthew 6 that are considered basic necessities. Jesus isn’t just telling us not to worry about our nice car, the newest phone, or affording the next family vacation. I heard a phrase once that referred to concerns like these as ‘first world problems’. He goes much deeper than that. Jesus says don’t even worry about the things you need!

Some translations of this passage use “anxious” and others use “worried”. The English word “worry” comes from the old English Wrygen and the Old High German Wurgen, both meaning “To Strangle or Choke”. It’s no wonder that worry and anxious thought have a horribly negative effect on our bodies. We don’t even need science to prove it to us because we can feel the life, vitality, peace, and joy being drained out of us when we are worried. Our health and wholeness is literally strangled out of us bit by bit. There is not a single part of a person’s body that is not affected by worry. It doesn’t stop there either. Anxiety and worry one person’s life will carry over to affect others.

If we claim allegiance to Christ then that should change absolutely everything for us. We cease to exist as we were. The entire point of being a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 2:20, Colossians 3:3, and many in others) is that our lives will be completely consumed with Him. The problem is, we still think about ourselves way too much and give far too much room in our lives to things that are not about Him. It’s no wonder we don’t think about Him like we should. It becomes very hard to live from our new identity when we live like we don’t have one. But, our new identity is key to having peace rather than anxiety. The new person is focused on the Eternal One and eternal things.

You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!

Isaiah 26:3 (NLT)

Come read more about how Jesus wants to set us free from a life of worry. In chapter 8, I share some of my story of an anxious filled life and how I’ve been saved from it. Get your copy at Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Thanks for reading!

Peace brothers and sisters

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

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“Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

                                                                          Matthew 7:1-5 (ESV)[my emphasis]

 

Don’t judge me! Have you ever heard those words before? Have you ever said them?

A few years back I had a student make a very wild and audacious comment to a question that I had posed. The focus of the discussion was to challenge choices made in history and label them as being the correct or incorrect decision based on what they had learned. There were obvious faults in some of the choices while others required more reasoning in order to conclude whether it was right or wrong. The student’s comment in the middle of the class discussion caught me completely off guard. In fact, when he said it I sort of laughed it off and chalked it up as him joking around. But he quickly informed me of his seriousness. This is what he said:

“If Hitler believed he was right in what he was doing to the Jews, then who are we to say he was wrong.”

I hope that everyone who just read that was as shocked as I was when I heard him say it. I admit, when he told me that he was serious I actually got a little angry. I tried not to let that show but it probably came out in the tone of my voice as the conversation ensued. I tried to understand the insanity of his claim so I asked him to explain. He was entitled to the opportunity. In the process of defending himself, the student brought up the concept of relativism.

Relativism: a view that ethical truths depend on the individuals and groups holding them

-Merriam Webster Dictionary

This philosophy has gained popularity over the last few decades, especially in its application to moral relativism. The student argued that, even though the majority of the world looked on in horror, and most refer to it as one of the greatest acts of barbarism and evil in modern history, Hitler could still be right in what he was doing if he thought he was.

In the United States alone, relativism has shaped many unpleasant aspects of our history. Relativism has made room for things like slavery, abortion, segregation, discrimination of any sort, pornography, new definitions of marriage, and being able to choose your own gender. With a list like that, who knows what it will lead to in the decades to come? If societies remove absolute truths, then individuals residing in them have no right to declare another’s opinions or lifestyles as wrong. What is wrong to one person does not have to be wrong to another. That means there is no judge in a society steered by pure moral relativism. Fortunately we’re not there…yet.

I’ve heard a lot of Christians say that we are never to judge anyone. But what exactly does that mean? The key to understanding what Jesus is saying on this matter is to look at the question he asks in Matthew 7:3. How can we judge our brothers and sisters without first looking at the one in the mirror?

If there is only one judge, and we aren’t Him, where does that leave us? We shouldn’t condemn. We shouldn’t be hypocrites. We shouldn’t elevate ourselves. But what should we do? In a world that wants to be gray…in a world that cherishes political correctness…in a world that wants to remove all offense…in a world quick to be defensive…what are we to do?

In chapter six of my book I discuss seven things believers are called to do in a world such as ours. It all basically boils down to allowing Jesus to restructure our hearts so we can shine the light in the lives of others. Not shrinking back, but cause the darkness to be illuminated through the truths of the Bible. If you’d like your own copy of the book its available on amazon or  Barnes and Noble if you prefer.

God bless brothers and sisters. Keep sharing the love and truth of Jesus in a world so desperate for it.

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!

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)