stories, lessons, and a lot of nonsense

remembering and praising

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I have met with teenagers who, despite all the evidence to the contrary, have told me that they just have never seen God in their lives.  But as their youth pastor and having had the opportunity to listen to them over the years and see God moving, I am able to remind them of different times when they felt differently.  And as we recount the times God has moved and different times and ways He has spoken to them, they begin to feel more at ease with God’s silence in their lives in that time.

I am certain that this is not strictly a teenage problem, though.  I have experienced it, too, even as a pastor. Sometimes you just get into a funk.  It is easy to get in a funk as a Christian.  I think it’s easy to allow how we feel in a moment or for several consecutive moments to skew how we see God in our lives.  It’s easy to hear the whispers of doubt in those times, especially when God is silent, or you’re feeling particularly guilty over something.  “God’s not even there.”  “God’s not real.”  “God’s done with you.  You’ve crossed the line one too many times.”  And as we listen to those whispers of doubt, we feel more and more isolated as we begin to buy into them.

Whether you keep a praise journal or just have a knack for remembering things, I think it’s important to go back and constantly remind yourself of how God has moved, how He has spoken to you, and how you have felt His presence in your life.  I believe it’s important to share those things with other people.  David said, “I will tell of all the marvelous things you have done.”  There’s a lot of benefit to that.  Your story can be a blessing to someone else when you share it, and then when you are feeling hopelessly lost, your story can be shared back to you and give hope to you.

I believe maintaining a heart of praise and a heart of joy is something that must be pursued actively.  Keep praising God.  Keep pursuing.  Keep remembering.  Keep sharing.

On Sunday, I had the opportunity to preach on Daniel in big church, really focusing in on two points of a real authentic faith: it is pre-determined and resolute.  Living out a person’s faith doesn’t happen on accident, especially in the face of trial.  I mentioned towards the beginning that Daniel and his friends would not be defiled with the king’s meat or wine, but also said that I didn’t have time to get into all of that, promising to write about it.  So here I am, writing about it.

Daniel was well studied.  He knew God, and he knew God’s laws.  So he would have been able to easily identify foods that were unclean or that would defile him.  Leviticus 11 gives a breakdown of how to determine whether an animal was considered ceremonially clean or unclean, though it doesn’t give insight as to why.  That is actually a long debated topic that I will not discuss here, or probably elsewhere, because God didn’t tell us why He made those distinctions.  So who am I to tell you?  But the standards existed nonetheless, and Daniel knew them and was determined to follow them.  It is likely that the Babylonians would have eaten pork, which was off limits to Daniel as a devout Jew.

But that doesn’t settle the entire matter, because wine is not forbidden in the Bible as a general rule.  In fact, Daniel apparently drank wine in Babylon later on, so this was very specific to the king’s wine (see Daniel 10).  It is possible they were afraid that the wine came from a tree that was defiled according to the standards found in Leviticus 19:23-25, or it’s possible that they either feared or knew that the wine and meat had first been offered to an idol.

The reality is that there were probably a combination of reasons the boys abstained from the food and wine offered to them.  There would have certainly been unclean meats, which was against Jewish Law.  The wine itself was also likely a protection against defilement, in case the Levitical Law wasn’t followed regarding the planting and waiting period necessary to made the fruit ceremonially clean by God’s standard.  Additionally, they were refusing assimilation in general, aspiring to maintain their identity as sojourners, exiles, Jews, and people of God.  They were not willing to risk becoming a part of a godless culture and losing that identity.  I believe it was this combination of reasons that kept them from participating.

We live in a  Christian culture that is not so cautious.  Daniel and his friends knew God’s standard and made sure not to cross the line, even if the information given them was ambiguous at best.  Honoring God was more important to them than fitting in or being happy, so they went to great lengths to do just that.  A lot of Christians seem more interested in identifying the line more so that they can get as close to it as possible without crossing it, whereas Daniel and his friends stayed far from crossing the line into sin.  The calling and identity of a Christian living by faith is to live separately, differently, and as one who does not belong to the culture.  Daniel and his friends really were exiles and sojourners in Babylon. We are to live like we are exiles and sojourners in this world, not conforming, not assimilating, but sacrificing anything that keeps us from representing God well.

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be yourself

retreat - be you

One challenge that I brought to the youth group while we were on our Summer retreat was to be themselves.  Being yourself is the calling of all Christians, but to truly be oneself, we must first understand who we are.  See, I’m not saying we should be ourselves, as we were born, broken and in sin.  I’m saying we should be ourselves, but specifically be who we are in Christ.  Sometimes Christians self-identify with the sins of their past without taking hold of the freedom they have received in Christ.

We’ve been born one way, but then when we place our faith in Jesus as God, we are re‐born as a new creation. The Bible teaches that we are born as a fallen, broken, sinful person. But when we place our faith in Jesus, we’re re-­‐born as our better self, according to 2 Corinthians 5:17. Sometimes we excuse things we shouldn’t be doing by saying, “well, I’ve just always been that way.” I use to use that to explain away being rude to people in general. I’ve always been smug. It’s not like I wasn’t trying. I was just being myself.  But there’s a better self to be.  Karl Maeser said, “Be yourself, but always your better self.”  That’s what we ought to be striving for as Christians: be our better selves, the new creation we have been made into through Christ.

So who are we in Christ?

In Christ, we are new creations.  As new creations, we can live for Him and not for ourselves. 2 Corinthians 5:15-17

In Christ, our sinful flesh is put to death, and a new life is in us.  In fact, a whole new Person – Jesus Christ – is alive in us. Galatians 2:20

In Christ, we are dead to sin but alive in righteousness. Romans 6:4

In Christ, we are no longer children of disobedience, but created and capable of doing good works. Ephesians 2:4-­10

In Christ, we are holy and precious.  We should live like it. Colossians 3:12-14

So be yourself, but be who you are in Christ.

When we hear John 10:10, we often focus in on the full life part for a couple of reasons.  First, the church has been doing an extensive series on what the full life could and should look like in various areas of your life, so you might be programmed to think on it by now.  Second, a more abundant life is prettier to look at than stealing, killing, and destroying.  But that first part is equally as important in understanding the verse, as well as being able to objectively assess our own actions.  Are they of God or are we working for the thief?

If I told you that the thief often does his killing, stealing, and destroying through people, you might readily agree.  That makes sense, because someone you know pops into your head when I say that.  But what if the person he’s using to destroy things in your life or the lives of others is you?  It’s hard to imagine.  First of all, it’s hard to imagine oneself as the problem, because people tend to have a blindspot regarding their own weaknesses.  It’s easier to see how someone else is a problem, because we are affected by their issues.  When I act out, I don’t necessarily feel the forces of my actions, and feelings are usually key to discerning these kinds of things.  It’s also hard to image when we consider our proximity to God.  Aren’t I too close with Him to be working for the thief?

Well, before you dismiss the suggestion that you could be operating as the thief’s destroyer, simply because you are a good Christian and close to God, I want you to consider a Matthew 16:21-23.

From then on Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead. But Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things. “Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!” Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”

Peter was as close to Jesus as any man who ever lived.  He literally walked with Jesus daily for about three years, listening to His teaching, being mentored by Him, and working for Him.  He was close to God.  And right here, he’s trying to do the right thing based on his closeness to God and belief in Jesus.  But what does Jesus say?  “Get away from me, Satan.”  Peter, the close friend of Jesus, found himself working for the Devil, not out of ill intentions, but out of his own good intentions with were contrary to God’s desire.  Had he weighed his words – something he isn’t known for – he might not have said them, but he didn’t weigh, and he did say.

We must be careful to consider our words and actions.  We must weigh them against what God desires, not what want to see happen, good as it may be.  Sometimes, out of our good intentions, and certainly out of our selfish desires, we can end up being the destroyer.  It’s not a fitting job title for a Christian, though, so before acting or saying, ask yourself a question.  “Will this bring life, or is it destructive?”

On Sunday, I had the opportunity to preach on God’s desire for marriages.  You can listen HERE if you missed it.  I mentioned that I didn’t have time to go into everything I wanted to talk about due to time constraints, but I said I would post some of what I had intended to say for you here.  So what I will be doing is actually pasting the part of my message I cut, describing the power of some wilderness traps marriages face on their way to trouble.  Certainly there are more than the few I’ve listed, but it would be nearly impossible to write about all of them.  So again, I encourage you to prayerfully seek God and ask Him to reveal to you traps you may be caught in in your marriage or your life, and then allow Him to show you how you are free from them.

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I want to name just a few that are fast tracking a lot of marriages for divorce and that shouldn’t be in any marriage, much less a Christian marriage. One selfish act that can lead to divorce is pornography usage. This is a sin, according to Matthew 5:27-30. It is a form of adultery or cheating on one’s spouse, and any way you might be cheating on your spouse is wrong. There are no two ways around it. Pornography is wrong, and it is unhealthy. It changes a person. And it leads to divorce. According to a recent study, 56% of all divorces are precipitated by one or both spouses’ regularly viewing pornography.[1]   This is serious business, and it’s something to be stopped right away.  (For further information on the effects pornography has on the user, his spouse, and his children, you can read a research paper I recently completed on the matter by clicking Selph_Research_Paper_Pornography.)

A marriage that’s in trouble may also include having an emotional affair. An emotional affair mimics closeness and emotional intimacy of an affair without ever becoming physical. Some people think that’s just a made up phrase, not a real thing, but it is real, and the same study that I just mentioned states that it is a precipitating factor for 68% of all divorces.[2]  Again, this is something that ought to be stopped right away. If it means severing a relationship and ending a friendship, so be it. Better to lose a friend of the opposite sex than to lose your spouse.

One more area that could stand to be mentioned is abuse. There should never be abuse in any relationship ever. It shouldn’t be in a marriage, in a parenting relationship, between friends, or anywhere. Abuse has no place. And although every bad thing in a marriage can be solved and can be healed through Christ, if your physical safety or the safety of your children is being compromised by physical or sexual abuse, you should go somewhere safe. Don’t stay. Physical and sexual abuse are obviously very serious issues, but they are only two kinds of marital abuse. There is also mental abuse, which comes in the form of put downs, intimidation, condescension, and publically shaming a person. There is verbal abuse, which can also be emotional abuse, and includes consistent yelling, talking over your spouse, using loud and threatening language, and being constantly argumentative. There is also mental abuse, which involves consistently lying, manipulating, and twisting things around to find blame. None of this should be in a marriage. If you are doing this to your spouse, you need to stop.

To reiterate, you do not need to wander aimlessly in the wilderness in your marriage, nor do you need to be enslaved to your past.  As a child of God, you have the power to be free if you would choose to be.

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[1] Mary J. C. L. Tarver, “Pornography & the End of Eros,” Studia Canonica 44, no. 2 (2010): 344, accessed May 1, 2015, http://search.proquest.com/docview/863135473?accountid=12085.

[2] Tarver, 344.

a good mom

I have a good mom.  I’ve always known that she is a good mom.  And even though I thought I really appreciated her for what she’d done, I now understand that I couldn’t fully appreciate her, because I didn’t understand.  I didn’t understand, because she never sat me down and explained how all consuming my siblings and I were.  But you’ve met me, and there are three more like me, all equally difficult to deal with in our own way – except Steve, who set the standard for difficulty – so you have to know that raising us was not a walk in the park.  Having kids myself has allowed me to see my mom’s struggle and pains through Sarah’s motherhood, and even then, I’m only observing, not experiencing it on their level.  But I do get a decent picture, as Sarah is also a great mom and just the right mom for our kids.  There’s no one else that could do the amazing job she does.

So what makes my mom and Sarah good moms, anyway?

Love.  You can take 1 Corinthians 13:4-6, replace the word “love” with Sarah’s name or my mom’s name, and you wouldn’t feel like you were lying your way through it.  That is not to say that they are perfect and never step outside that, but their consistent character reflects the love described in these verses.  Try it with your name.  Does it work?

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Sacrifice.  There are certain things I suppose you do not or cannot do once a child enters your life, particularly if you choose to take on a servant leader role like Jesus.  Philippians 2 tells us to have the same mind in us that Christ had when He humbled Himself and cared more for us than His position, and they do.

Godly.  Timothy was a young man who helped turn the world upside down for Christ, as the church started and began to spread.  His father was not a believer.  You know who was?  His mom and grandma.  That’s through whom he learned the truth.  Now, my dad is a believer, and I am a believer, but just Timothy benefitted from the Godly example set by his mom, so did I, and so do my sons.  My mom was a stay at home mom, and so is Sarah, so they were the primary spiritual influences in their children’s lives while the dads were working elsewhere, outside the home.  That does not diminish my dad’s impact on me, nor does it take away the impact I’m having on my sons, but it shines light on the powerful impact a mom can have.

These are just a few things that make them great.  I could write pages on it, but I will not, not for you, anyway.  I’ll try to be sure to share more with them personally.

What do you think makes a mom a good mom?

my unstoppable playlist

On Sunday, we looked at what God said about us, and He has a lot of good things to say.  We ended by looking at Romans 8:31, which says, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”  Of course, the answer is that no one can stop us when God is for us.

On my way to church Sunday morning, before preaching, I listened to a song a couple of times that speaks to this truth, because it pumps me up.  It gets me ready to go do something.  Then I began to think about other songs that remind me that I am unstoppable in Christ, so I made a playlist with ska, rap, worship, and metal songs.  Here are some songs to encourage you, from many different genres, beginning with some old school ska and the song I listened to Sunday.  Listen to them when you have a change, and remember that you’re unstoppable.

The O.C. Supertones – Who Can be Against me?

Andy Mineo – You Can’t Stop Me (Rap)

Also, here’s the youth band doing their version of it back in August:

Disciple – Dead Militia (Metal)

Jonny Lang – Don’t Stop (For Anything) (Blues)

Chris Tomlin – Our God (Worship)

 

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