stories, lessons, and a lot of nonsense

Put it to the test

It’s easy to make claims about anything. You can claim to be a certain level of intelligence, incredibly athletic, able to dunk a basketball, etc. you can say anything, but a time may come when someone challenges you to prove it. Show the world what you’ve got. If you are not prepared or are not what you claim, this is an awful moment. You will suddenly be exposed and left embarrassed. I’ve been there. I have made claims throughout my life that I was unable to prove, because I may have exaggerated a little (or a lot). None of the stories I remember about this are particularly unique or interesting, but when I recall them, I sometimes feel embarrassed all over again. It’s embarrassing to have people find out you’re a bit of a fraud.

One area I have been exposed in the past is in my walk with God. I’d always viewed myself as a good Christian. I did a quiet time, I studied, I memorized Scripture, went to church, and did good things. I was impressed with myself and wasn’t shy about wanting others to be impressed with me. I was exposed often, though, proving myself to not be what I claimed to be. I wasn’t as Godly as I claimed, continually shown when my faith was put to the test.

Your faith is put to the test often, as is mine. You don’t have to put it to the test on your own. Other people will do it for you. The test is in how you speak of people and how you treat people. Your initial thought is probably that you speak of and treat people well. Most of us do treat most people well. The people we treat well and speak well of are usually people we like, people that treat us well, and people with whom we agree, though. That’s not the test. How do you treat and speak of people with whom you disagree, even vehemently disagree?

Luke‬ ‭6:32-36‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“”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.”

‭‭This has been a struggle for me. I imagine it is for many of you. I see a lot of posts lately condemning high school students for speaking up and walking out of schools over gun control issues. You may not agree with them, but I see a lot of adults speaking down to them, telling them maybe they should be nice to others instead of asking for gun control. I agree that students need to be kind to other students. Where, though, do you suppose many have learned to speak down to others, to insult people with whom they do not agree, and to speak with hostility? Probably their parents, right? Probably adults in their lives who are always complaining about people of other ideologies, adults that insult politicians and people of other political parties constantly, adults who never let an opportunity for an evil word to pass without speaking it. If students are the issue (I don’t think they are), it’s because they’re surrounded by adults that are teaching them that’s how you treat people.

How’s your heart? Is it as good as you think or would say it is? It’s being put to the test every day. You can try to hide it, but the proof is there. Next time a light turns green and the car in front of you doesn’t go, you’ll get a good indication. Next time someone insults you, you’ll find out. Next time someone posts something or a politician says something with which you disagree, you’ll take a test. Whatever is in your heart – for better or for worse – will come out and reveal the truth to you. You need to prepare for those tests by letting God transform your heart.


no matter what

When I was younger and my mom would tell me she would always love me, I used to ask questions to clarify.  What if I stopped loving you?  What if I moved away?  What if I did something really bad? What if I died before her? I asked these sorts of things for years, because I just couldn’t believe it!  I figured I would eventually come up with a scenario where she’d say, “You know, if that happened, I guess I’d stop loving you,” but it never happened.  My mom would always tell me that she’d love me forever, no matter what.

Now with kids of my own, I understand.  I love them and will love them no matter what.  I realized that Jakob didn’t get it a few years ago.  Whenever he gets in trouble, and he’s punished, we always make sure to tell him that we love him after we’ve talked to him about whatever it was. Every single time, without fail, when we would say, “I love you,” he’d break down and cry. A few years ago, he was in trouble for lying to us, and he could see that lying to us had made us angry.  He was in his room, had already been talked to about his lying, told that he was loved, started crying, was calmed down, and left to think about his choices.  When I came back to talk to him again, he spoke softly to me.  He asked me if I really loved him, and I told him that I did. Even though I lied to you?  Yes, even though he had lied to me.  I asked him if he was afraid I didn’t love him when he did wrong, and he started crying again and shook his head yes.  He thought I could cease to love him based on his actions.  I told him, “Jakob, I love you no matter what.  Nothing will ever make me stop loving you.”

I love my sons, and they cannot change that, because they can’t stop me from being their dad and caring about them.  They are stuck with my loving them, regardless of how they respond to my love. Love is not based on performance.  It’s based on the character and the choice of the one who is loving.  But we sometimes get the idea that love can ebb and flow, be earned and lost, because we do not really understand love.  Worse yet, we take our misunderstanding and attribute it to God. We think that we can earn and lose God’s love, earn and lose His unmerited grace, win our way into His love and sin our way out of it.  This is not how God works.

When we are God’s children – truly saved and in relationship with Him through Jesus Christ – we cannot sin our way out of His love.  We can’t do something that would make Him want to toss us to the side and be done with us.  God wants to forgive you.  He wants you to turn back to Him and walk with Him.  It doesn’t matter how far you have strayed or how long you’ve been away from Him.  God wants you back, because He loves you no matter what.

Jesus wanted us to understand the depths of His patience, forgiveness, and love for His children.  In order to do so, He gave us the story of a father and a son to consider in Luke 1. In Luke 1, we see the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-24,ESV)  The prodigal son represents us when we stray, and the father represents God. Though the son had done a lot wrong and strayed very far away, His father sat, waited, and watched for him. As soon as the father could see that the son had turned from his wicked lifestyle and was moving towards him, he ran to him. The dad didn’t wait for the son to get all the way back; he didn’t make his son pay retribution or earn back his love. As soon as he saw his son was heading towards him, he ran to him, hugged him, kissed him, and showed that his love for his son had never stopped.

That’s how God views you. He loves you. Maybe you’ve strayed. Maybe you’ve been away from Him for a long time. He’s waiting for you. As soon as you turn towards Him, He’ll run to you. He will embrace you. You are His child, and His love fro you has never stopped. Don’t let the enemy tell you otherwise. Don’t let him convince you that you can’t go back to God, because He’s too mad at you for what you’ve done. God has always and will always love you no matter what. Just go to Him.

I sometimes of make the mistake of pursuing goals alone. I have it in my mind what I want to do or what I know I need to do, and I silently set off after my goals. I haven’t found much success in this. It’s easy to get discouraged when there’s no one there to encourage you. It’s also easy to quit when no one knows you’ve committed to something. I have quit so many good things in the past, because I got tired, distracted, or discouraged: Bible reading plans, books, gym memberships, healthy eating, instruments I was trying to learn. I just quit. I had no social safety net.

As we pursue full life and being transformed by God, we’re going to come up against difficulty, discouragement, and the desire to quit. I know I have. But lately, I’ve been trying to open up to friends about what I’m pursuing, so they can push me along when I don’t want to move on my own. I’ve been making much greater strides as a result. I’m finishing Bible reading plans, going to the gym regularly, eating better (and losing weight as a result!), and reading more. It’s not because I suddenly have a greater desire to get these things done. It’s because I’ve asked people to ask whether I’m doing it, and if I’m not, ask me why. I’m being held accountable.

We’re implemented this into youth group for Bible reading. Last month, each small group started a Bible reading plan together. I got to be in all of them for the first month. Throughout the day, I would get notifications on my phone and in my email. “_____ commented on Day ___ of your Bible reading plan.” It was mildly distracting and super encouraging. We just finished the first plan this week. Yesterday, I talked to a student that was very excited. He asked, “Did you see I finished the Bible reading plan?” I told him I did see it. He said, “That’s the first time I’ve ever finished one!” Like me, he had struggled in the past. This time, he had friends pushing him to stay on track, and he did it.

Find someone that pushes you in your pursuit of full life. Whatever areas God has called you to focus on specifically this year or in this season, make sure you find someone you trust that won’t give you a pass if you let up. Push them back. Grow in full life together. Don’t go it alone. There’s more success when you have someone who will push you.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10  (ESV)

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! 

One thing I’ve learned in my walk with God is that not everyone will support you. I wish that just meant that non-Christians wouldn’t be supportive of your following closely after God and surrendering to what He’s called you to do, but it doesn’t. The truth is, Christians will not always support you, either, which is frustrating, disappointing, and disheartening. Whether it’s because they do not believe in you, they do not believe in your call, or your walk makes them uncomfortable, because they’re not doing it, there will always be Christians who don’t back you. Don’t let anyone stop you from pursuing what God has called you to do, though. Let them have their opinions, but don’t accept their opinions as truth. By the way, sometimes the person who doesn’t believe in you is you. Sometimes God will call you to something, and you’ll say, “I can’t! I don’t have what it takes!” You do have what it takes, so when I say don’t let anyone stop you, I include you in the anyone. Don’t stop yourself, and don’t let anyone else get in the way. Follow God.

A lot of us are starting the Transform series in our life groups. Each session, you’re supposed to come up with a SMART goal for the next three months. How are you going to transform spiritually? How are you going to transform physically? And so on through the list. You should pray over those goals and let God lead you in setting the goals. Why transform into anything other than what He wants of you? After you have them, it’s good to share those goals, but keep in mind that not everyone is going to support them. Maybe people not even in your circle will see you making changes and say something negative about your new choices. It’s going to discourage you, but don’t let it stop you.

I’ve been discouraged. I had youth leaders that became my co-youth leaders after I graduated that didn’t believe in me, because I did some things differently than them. I had a professor tell me that I didn’t have what it took yet, that I didn’t know what I needed to know, and that if I transferred to a different school, I wouldn’t learn it or have what it took to be a youth pastor (I transferred anyway, because I was 100% convinced it was a move of God). On my first day in ministry, my lead pastor and boss expressed his concern that I didn’t have what it took, because he said that I was spiritually immature (based on a non-essential, non-sin related difference of opinion). Later in my employment there, he more directly told me that ministry wasn’t the job for me. Though I dug my heels in each time, insecurity and doubt crept into my mind, so much so that a year later, I almost did quit ministry. I thought, “Maybe they were right. Maybe I don’t have what it takes. Maybe this isn’t the job for me.” I almost let them stop me. I almost stopped myself in my doubt. I looked at and applied for different jobs that had nothing to do with ministry, because I was deflated and scared. In the end, I didn’t stop, because after prayer, I was reassured by God that this is what He created me to do. He gave me the call, and He gave me to power to do it.

You have the power to complete the goals God puts on your heart over the next few months, too. You have the power to be who God is transforming you into right now. You aren’t powerless and incapable of making the changes He wants you to make. If He’s calling you to do it, and you surrender to Him, you’ll be able to do it. Romans 8:11 says that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is alive in you, and it frees you from the bondage of your sin and gives you the ability to live the life God has for you. Don’t you think that power is enough to help you get committed to spending time with God, to turning your body over to Him, enough to surrender your thought life over to Him, etc? Don’t you think that power is enough to attain the goals He wants you to pursue? It is. If you have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, you have what it takes, because you have God dwelling inside of you.

If anyone tries to stop you, including you, don’t let it discourage you. Don’t let it stop you. You’ve got this, so set those goals and attain them.

I use the song below to motivate me when I feel like quitting, when I’m discouraged. It reminds me that for all the times people (including myself) have said I couldn’t do this or that, God has not only told me I could do it, but He’s made it so I could when I’ve let Him. I use the knowledge of God’s power and provision, as it’s helped me overcome these things, as fuel and motivation. The song is heavy metal. Listen at your own discretion. You’ve been warned.

Get personal.

I am reading f through Matthew currently. I’ve read it before many times, but it seems that every time I read it, I focus on different things. I don’t know if it has to do with the season of life I’m in when reading or if it has to do with my present circumstances or what. I just know I can read the same thing several times and feel like something new is coming alive for the first time.

Earlier this week, I read Matthew 8, and something different caught my attention again. Maybe it’s gotten my attention before, but I don’t know. The thing that struck me wasn’t even highlighted, so I doubt it.

Matthew 8:1-3 (ESV)

“When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.”

Jesus was in a great crowd. Who knows how many people were there. We just know there was one particular man. In the midst of a large group, Jesus saw the one. He listened to the one. He got personal with one. The man acknowledged Jesus’ power and authority. He knew Jesus could heal him if he chose. Jesus did choose to do so. Then He reached out and touched him.

You didn’t touch a leper back then. His affliction would make you ceremonially unclean. We don’t know how long he had had leprosy, but you can be sure no one had touched him for as long as he had. Nobody would want to be unclean, and they definitely wouldn’t want to risk catching it. Jesus reached out and touched him, though. His virtue overpowered the man’s being unclean.

Jesus could have addressed him at the crowd level. He could have said, “I know there is a leper here,” because He did know, “and I command that he be whole and clean.” He didn’t. He had a personal conversation. He could have then spoken the man’s healing over him while keeping a safe distance. He performed many miracles by speaking them into existence. He didn’t here, though. He got personal and put His hand on the man, a man who had been rejected, deemed untouchable for a period of time. Jesus not only healed the man; He demonstrated His compassion for Him, gave him dignity, and showed his value by getting personal and touching him.

You can help plenty of people from afar and provide material needs. You can never give someone dignity and value from afar, though. You have to get close to people, look them in the eye, listen to their story, show you are on the same level with them. You have to get personal.

I was listening to the radio this morning on my way to work. On the show, two guys were talking about their new year’s resolutions. They had mutually agreed to start on January 1 with the same resolution, but as of today, one hadn’t started yet. The one who had started was hassling him and asking him when he was going to finally start. His answer: tomorrow. I’m interested to listen tomorrow and hear if he did, because I’ve waited for tomorrow to start different resolutions for years. I’ll quit pop tomorrow, I’ll go to the gym tomorrow, I’ll start reading my Bible tomorrow. Tomorrow’s the easiest day to ever start anything, because there’s always tomorrow.

I’m sure some of you are there now. Maybe you made some commitments that you still haven’t gotten around to. I’m sure most reading my blog have some spiritual commitments on the list, since my reach is about as far as the church’s facebook page. Maybe you committed to reading the Bible more this year, or maybe to reading all of it this year, or maybe you want to pray more, start serving somewhere in the church, or something else. Of course, if you don’t have any spiritual goals, I’d recommend making some. It’s easier to hit the target when there’s a target to hit.

Not only am I sure that many of you did make spiritual commitments, but I’m also sure that some of you are like me. You don’t take long into January to get behind a bit. Get started. Don’t worry about catching up; just start. If you want to read the Bible in a year, finish it on January 3 of next year. Whatever the goal, get going. Remember, there’s going to come a time when you miss, when you fall down, when you slack. You won’t walk as closely with God as you might intend to right now. In the middle of that, the enemy is going to tell you to just give up, to wait for tomorrow, to wait for Monday, to wait for next year. He doesn’t care what you say, as long as you wait. Don’t wait. Get started and keep starting every time you fail or stop.

It’s easy to look at your faults and at your failures, but it’s better to look to Jesus. Stop looking at distractions, whether they are obstacles, failures, insecurities, or whatever, and start looking at Jesus. Being like Him is the goal. Start moving towards him, and keep starting.

Hebrews 12:1-2 (ESV)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 

it’s up to you

There’s probably something you don’t know about me, and you probably can’t tell from looking. I’ve met with a personal trainer a few times. Surprised? You should be. Three different trainers from three different gyms. They all gave me advice on workouts I should be doing, foods I should be eating, and foods I should not be eating. I tried to follow their advice for probably a week, but I grew bored of being disciplined, and I missed my more lazy approach to things, so I went back to my old habits. I continued going to the gym, aimlessly doing this exercise or that one, not really following the prescribed plan, and ate whatever I wanted. Do you know how radically my life changed? It didn’t. I wish I could tell you that it’s the personal trainers’ fault. They didn’t teach me what I needed to know, which is obvious, because my life didn’t change. Right? We know that’s not true.

That’s how we treat church, though. If we’re not growing, who do we immediately point the finger at? The church we attend, maybe the pastors for what they’re preaching. I’ve been in ministry a long time now, so I’ve had the benefit of having this conversation with many people over the years. “We’re thinking about switching churches. We’re just not growing.” I always ask the same question in response. “How much time are you spending time with God during the week?” The answer is always about the same. “Well, not as much as I should,” or, “It’s been a while,” etc. You get the idea. I know this will be the answer, too, because it’s impossible to to not grow in your Christian walk if you are spending time with God. It’s impossible to grow in your Christian walk by just going to church, being inspired, and doing nothing with it. Your Christian walk – your spiritual growth – is yours to pursue and maintain. It’s not up to the church or the pastors. The best we can do is lead you to water. It’s up to you to drink.

Peter concludes 2 Peter in verses 17 and 18 with this: “I am warning you ahead of time, dear friends. Be on guard so that you will not be carried away by the errors of these wicked people and lose your own secure footing. Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. All glory to him, both now and forever! Amen.”

There’s a contrast. You can get carried away, you can be deceived, you can be stunted as a Christian. Or, you can grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It’s up to you. It’s your choice which you will be. He doesn’t “be grown in grace and the knowledge…” He’s not pinning that responsibility on anyone else – not your parents, not your pastors, not your small groups leaders, not your family, and not your friends. He’s not commanding you to be grown by someone else. He’s commanding you to take responsibility for your own growth, for you own spiritual walk. You grow in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus. You do it. At KCC, we hope to help and inspire as much as we can, but we can’t grow you. It’s up to you.