Control

We all have strong feelings. Our emotions help us as we experience the world around us. Emotions give depth to life. Our existence would be drab without emotions. The Bible clearly states that we have a multitude of emotions: joy, grief, anger, fear, and love, which are all an integral part of our lives. Some of these emotions are alarms indicating that we need a change in our lives.
There is something problematic, and there needs to be a course correction.
 
Anger, for instance, is a call to action; it is a motivating emotion so that we are not idle when we experience injustice. Sometimes, we are unsure how to express these unresolved issues. This is most evident with our children.
 
Enter the temper tantrum. When one of my boys does not feel heard, they respond in an emotion-fueled way. Maybe they were asked to clean their room and would rather play, or they would like to skip dinner and go straight to dessert. Sometimes, it is more egregious, like their brother hit them, and they were the ones caught retaliating, and their initial slight was unrepresented. And so, they lash out in anger—emotions are a powerful way to get someone else’s attention.
 
This past weekend, our family went to Leslie Groves Park. The boys had spent over an hour building a large reservoir. And in one dramatic event, Milo kicked through the retaining wall, releasing a torrent of water… the other boys were horrified. And the screaming ensued. I am sure if you were in a 10-mile radius on Friday morning, you could hear their screams of terror. Although it was unpleasant and the result was undesired, there was no way to undo it. It happened. We could rebuild and fill it with water, but it would not be the same as what they had built. So, they screamed out in frustration.

We use these outbursts in an attempt to control the situation. Whenever I am dealing with one of my children in the midst of a tantrum, I try to recognize what they are trying to control. Sometimes, they want to change my opinion or instruction. Sometimes, they are dissatisfied with the way their brothers treat them. Although they can’t verbalize it, they think it will improve their situation if they scream, pout, or even become unresponsive. Yet we all know that tantrums don’t fix anything; they only make it worse… remarkably worse. Therefore, I try to reinforce that although they cannot change the situation, they can control themselves.
 
Paradoxically, when we control ourselves, we can begin to control the situation. When the world seems to be spinning out of control, the best thing you can do is stop spinning with it. As we read the Bible, we are given two incredible truths. The first is that we discover who is in control.
 
Hebrews 2:7-9 – “You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, 8 putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now, in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. 9 But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”

Nothing is beyond Jesus’ control, and everything is subject to him. That is a remarkable statement. Even more astonishing is that Jesus achieved this through suffering, which we typically try to avoid. And even though we may not perceive it as such, there will come a day when we know without a doubt that the Son is in control. Christ gained control through total submission and releasing control back to God. The other truth is that through trust in God, we find an anchor and ultimately gain control.
 
Hebrews 6:17-20 – “So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”
 
Although we might feel like the world is disjointed and we may feel powerless, we might want to kick and scream that we are out of control. We might not be able to verbalize our current frustrations, but… we have an anchor for our souls. We understand that God cannot be moved and that we rest securely in His hands. We take refuge from the chaos around us in the character and power of God. Therefore, we don’t create more dysfunction; we hold fast to the One in control.


10,000 Steps

Anyone who has a new smartwatch or activity tracker knows that it can be used as a step counter or pedometer. Most come with a default setting to count out ten thousand steps, although some recent studies show that you might need far fewer steps to maintain a healthy lifestyle. I am not a healthcare professional, so the metric of ten thousand steps seems reasonable for a healthy lifestyle. At least it is something to aim for, even if you don’t consistently achieve it.
 
We must ask ourselves, what is the goal? Is the goal to be more active? Or is the goal to achieve 10,000 steps? If the goal is to be more active, then I recognize the wisdom of enjoying the process and won’t become fixated on the superficial target. If the goal is to arrive at 10,000 steps, I will rigidly walk in place to achieve that goal, which might improve my overall health, even though it might not be as enjoyable.
 
Sometimes, I forget to wear my watch when I wake up to walk our dogs. Do my steps not count? If there is no record of my steps, then what is the point of exercise? But if I know the purpose is to be active, then getting out and walking is the goal, and I don’t need to worry about how many steps I have taken. 
 
This is precisely Jesus’ point when he discusses spiritual disciplines in the Sermon on the Mount. We have missed the point if our religion is about getting credit for a particular practice or observance. If we recognize that these disciplines are to draw me closer to God, then through their observances, I achieve my purpose.
 
Matthew 6:1-4, 16-18 ESV – “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. … 16 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
 
Notice that Jesus does not say, don’t fast or give to the disadvantaged. He doesn’t say practicing righteousness is trivial or frivolous. He does say that when we put into practice our desire to draw near to God, not to do it for others. It is not so that a record will be kept of our faithful compliances; it is not to remain a card-carrying member of Dutiful Believers Club. It is so I let go of myself and become more like Christ.
 
Jesus informs his followers that the reward will come from God. However, like gaining 10,000 steps, the reward is not a sense of accomplishment but rather an improved lifestyle or healthier heart. Following Christ is not solely about the reward (although great) it is about having a faithful lifestyle and a more complete heart.
 
I have realized that if I only meet with the body of Christ to check a box or meet a quota, I leave feeling empty and drained. But if I am going to sing praises to God, pray in community, encourage my church family, rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep, then I become more complete. It all comes down to why you are taking the 10,000 steps. 


Sunburned

At the end of sixth grade, my school planned a trip commemorating leaving middle school and moving on to junior high. The entire grade was going for the end-of-the-year celebration at Ouray Hot Springs. It is an incredible aquatic center with pools and natural hot springs, surrounded by the beautiful San Juan Mountain range. I was unsupervised, and 12-year-old boys do not think about sunscreen or how intense the UV rays are at nearly 8,000 feet of elevation. It was the WORST sunburn I have ever received. I turned into a blistered red tomato. Even worse was that my family drove to Yellowstone for summer vacation the following day.
 
Because I didn’t consider the consequences of my actions, I had to ride for 10 hours buckled into a car… suffering from 2nd-degree burns.
I learned a lot about sunburns that summer. For starters, the effects of sunburns are maximized 36-48 hours after you are first burned. You won’t necessarily feel the consequences until after you are burned. Next, sun exposure is cumulative.
The more you are exposed to UV rays, the more you have damaged your skin.
 
When you are feeling the effects of sunburn, the best thing you can do is get out of the sun and cover up. This is how you should prevent that initial sunburn from compounding. Finally, the absolute worst part about sunburns is sleeping; your body radiates heat, and you are in no comfortable position.
 
These realities correlate to the effects of sin in our lives. We don’t often feel the consequences until long after transgressing God’s will. Our minds become clouded, and we can’t perceive which way to go. Jesus says this is like having a great darkness in our lives. We perceive the world as dark, and others see us as having darkness within us. Paul goes on to say that this darkness keeps us from understanding.
 
Matthew 6:22-23 – “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”
Ephesians 4:17-20 ESV” “17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!”
 
When you are actively dealing with sin, its effects are cumulative; it becomes easier to give in to temptations and harder to avoid the same pitfalls in our lives. This is the concept of yeast working through the dough, and the only option is to cover up and prevent prolonged exposure. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul is refuting some poor theology, and he says this corrupts the congregation.
 
1 Corinthians 15:32-34 ESV – “32 What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” 33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good “orals.” 34 Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.”
 
Paul states that there are those who face death with a flippant and dismissive attitude, even inviting sin into their lives. This flawed thinking is dangerous, and Paul asserts it is corrupting. The best approach is to approach everything with a sober judgment so that we do not become corrupted.
Finally, when we are enveloped in sin, our souls have no rest. We become consumed and cannot find a way out. We are weary from the constant turmoil in our lives. Isaiah gives us the antithesis of that sentiment as he discusses a new King and kingdom.
 
Isaiah 32:1-2, 17-18 – “Behold, a king will reign in righteousness, and princes will rule in justice. 2 Each will be like a hiding place from the wind, a shelter from the storm, like streams of water in a dry place, like the shade of a great rock in a weary land… 17 And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever. 18 My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.”
 
In my life, I have been scorched by the effects of the sun and, many times, by sin. I have recognized that I must take precautions when both surround me. Complacency with either factor typically ends with harmful effects. I have learned that I must limit my direct exposure; otherwise, it will rob me of peace and rest in my life. If I become complacent, then I am at risk of getting sunburned. 


Escape

Escape
It is excellent to get away and unwind for a few days. We all have observed the mental and physical benefits of taking time off from our jobs. I know it is important, but I still feel guilty when I step away from my daily responsibilities. This guilt is partly due to our culture. We derive some satisfaction from being busy and imagining that we are needed. If we are honest, it is a pride issue. I love to imagine I am more critical than I am.
 
Exodus 20:8-11 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
God instructed the ancient Israelites to take a day of rest. However, the indication is not merely a cessation from work, although that is effectively the case. In its first mention, the Sabbath day is a dedication to the Lord. The passage’s force is for the Israelites to understand the separation of the day. It has been made holy, sanctified, or set apart. Combining these thoughts, we recognize that God desires us to separate the day from other days.

This separation is not merely about time off from our daily responsibilities but a time devoted to God. By the first century, religious leaders understood this level of devotion and made observing the Sabbath a stringent practice. They were determined to enforce a code that restricted all unauthorized behaviors that could be considered “work.”
Jesus combats this during one pivotal conversation with the religious leaders of that day. In Mark’s account of the gospel, he relays this event to a Gentile audience, specifying the purpose of the Sabbath. This passage also gives us an indication of the purpose of all God’s laws.
 
Mark 2:27-28 – “And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
 
Jesus’ words would have been striking for this crowd. In verse 28, he informed them that he is lord of the Ten Commandments, placing him on equal footing with God the Father. It is no wonder that Mark records that they want “to destroy him” (Mark 3:6). Just as striking for our culture, which prizes work, is that Jesus informs his followers that this ordinance was for their benefit. The Sabbath was not made for God. God did not need to rest, nor does our rest reward God. In the same vein, I was not made for rest, nor was the concept of rest made for me. It is the separateness of the day that was for our benefit. It is not the stoppage of work we need but a devotion toward God.
Observing the Sabbath required the complete restructuring of their society. They only had six days to work, prepare food, and conduct daily life. This required the Israelite people to be distinct and separate from the rest of the region around them. From its onset, Sabbath observance singled them out from every other people group, and this was for their benefit.
 
Our adherence to the Mosaic covenant no longer binds us. New Testament writers make this point evident; the Mosaic Law was just a shadow of things to come in Christ, and God nailed it to the cross (Colossians 2:13-17). Without exception, every other commandment is relisted in the New Testament as crucial to our new life in Christ. Our devotion is no longer to a day of the week but to the Lordship of Christ. Our dedication to the Messiah is precisely what we observe as Jesus contends with the Pharisees in Mark 2. The Sabbath does not rule over me; Jesus is lord of the Sabbath, and I orchestrate my life regarding him.
 
It is good to get away, take a break, and relax, but I don’t restructure my life for that purpose. Some people only work for the weekend, yet that is a tireless cycle that leaves you feeling unfulfilled and empty. I do not live in such a way that my entire life is devoted to securing vacation time. I build my life on the Rock. My life is not centered on a particular day of the week; my life is rooted and founded on Jesus. And when Jesus is the center of your life, you have no reason to Escape.


Safe to Eat

Thank you for everyone’s help and excitement during the Block Party. I can’t wait to have another one next year! Part of the preparation for the day’s event was to obtain a Temporary Food Permit. I had no idea the requirements for serving food were so stringent. We wanted to serve the safest food possible, which is more involved than cooking food and having a Food Handler’s Certificate.
 
When they arrived, the Health Inspector was most concerned about keeping Time for Controlled Foods out of the danger zone between 41℉and 135℉. Bacteria and viruses thrive between these temperatures. Therefore, you want to move them out of this range as quickly as possible, either by cooling or heating them to the desired temperatures. We can all agree that keeping bacteria out of our food is good.

One aspect I didn’t fully comprehend before Saturday was how quickly bacteria can spread once they start to grow. Because of the rapid nature of its growth, if one portion of the food falls out of this safe category, you must discard the entire batch of food. Therefore, the whole tray had to be thrown out because one tomato didn’t meet the inspector’s temperature standards. For many of us, that seemed excessive; it is difficult to watch the food being thrown away, yet by their standards, some of the food did not meet the criteria.
 
This same warning is often issued to Jesus’ followers regarding the proliferation of corrupt ideals. Interestingly enough, it happens at both ends of the religious spectrum. Much like the temperature danger zone, the most dangerous location is when the food is lukewarm…
 
Mark 8:15 – “And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”
 
Mark’s record gives us the best understanding that the teachings of the Pharisees and the lives of the Herodians were dangerous. One imposed unnecessary religious burdens that the people were unable to carry (Matthew 23:4), and the other sought political power through their earthly leaders (Matthew 22:16-22). What about outright sinful behavior? Paul informs us that this also falls into the danger zone.
 
1 Corinthians 5:6-8 – “Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
 
Prior to the Passover, the Jews celebrated the Feast of Unleavened Bread; during this festival, all yeast must be removed from the house (Exodus 12:15-19). The yeast removal had to happen before the Passover; Paul asserts that our Passover has already happened, and Christ has been crucified. And we participate in that sacrifice when we belong to Christ. For a Jew, it would be impossible to participate in the Passover and have the corrupting nature of leaven within your home.
The reason is apparent because a little bit of yeast infiltrates throughout the dough and consequently the entire home. You cannot have it both ways. You can’t participate in what corrupts you, be it the teachings of the Pharisees, Herodians, or the tolerance of evil. Whether you acknowledge it or not, it will take its hold on you and contaminate you.

The Health Inspector was clear: the only way to keep the food safe was to continually take its temperature and verify that it had not moved into the danger zone. If it does, the meal is not ruined; however, you must remove the part with the harmful bacteria so it is Safe to Eat.

** Paul’s words are directed toward Believers. We cannot remove ourselves from the world. But those who follow Jesus must practice their faith with truth and sincerity… we can’t be hypocrites. We must practice what we believe (Matthew 4:17). For further reading, follow Paul’s thoughts on 1 Corinthians 5:9-13. **


The Impossible

There are few things more challenging than self-control. Self-control requires a level of introspection, awareness, and restraint. It is one of my most significant flaws as a person. I love my kids more deeply than they will ever know, but they can push me to the limits of my patience and sanity. However, to be a better dad, I needed to work on controlling how I react to situations.
 
Cooper has very big emotions and is timid when asked to step out of his comfort zone. Two weeks ago, our family went to Slidewaters near Chelan, WA. The entire experience is a lot for him to adjust to: crowds, water, and loss of control, all of which he reacts negatively to. However, I have learned that the best thing I can do is control my emotions and not respond to any negativity or surprises. I have to control myself so Cooper can process the new environment and feel secure enough to adjust at his own pace. The reward is that at the end of the day, he is begging to go down one more water slide and doesn’t want to go home.

There is no doubt that Christianity is grounded in relationships. Our relationships are predicated on the idea of putting others above our desires. Two weeks ago, in my lesson, I used the quote from Francis Chan, “It is impossible to ‘one another’ yourself.” Therefore, we cannot remove ourselves from the relationships around us, regardless of how convenient it might be.
 
Time and again, I see people removing this element from Christianity. Churches have become service-based enterprises where we are concerned about what we will get from the experience. This is not relational; it is transactional. Relational says, “How can I serve you?” Transactional says, “Who will serve me?”
The distinguishing characteristic of Christianity is: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Many religions see the benefit and beauty of serving and taking care of the needy. However, followers of Christ take it one step further: They will serve those who oppose them—they will serve their enemies.
 
Matthew 5:44-48 ESV – “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
 
What do completeness and perfection look like? It is rejecting the standard of this world, not only being nice to our friends but loving our enemies too, praying for those that have hurt us. What does it mean to be complete? It is to act the way God has toward humanity; he provides grace and mercy to all humanity regardless of their positional sanctification. While we were still enemies, God sent His Son to die for us (Romans 5:6-10).
 
Following Christ means we don’t treat our friends or enemies any differently. If I am to bear the burdens of my brothers, I must also bear the burdens of those who are not my friends. If I am only hospitable to those I care about, am I any different from the rest of the world? What separates us from the rest of the world is we do something that, by human standards, is inconceivable.
 
I know I have shortcomings, but I am willing to work on those for those I care about. I would change any negative quality if it were best for my family. The true challenge is what I would change to benefit my worst enemy. If I would learn self-control to help Cooper, If I can hold my tongue to benefit Amanda, if I can do that for those I love, I need to do that for those against me. That is the hard part, and this is what the world would deem impossible.
“But He said, “The things that are impossible with people are possible with God.” Luke 18:27


The Fruits of His Church

Titus’s Thinking Tales
 
Before Libby and I left Texas to intern here at Richland, we had a bizarre experience with one of our neighbors. As Libby and I got back from the gym, we were stopped by a tenant in our apartments. He told us his name was Nikolai and that he was new in the neighborhood, and after a bit of friendly conversation, he offered to have us over for dinner the next night. Naturally, we accepted.

Once we got to his apartment for dinner, we realized there was something missing. There was not much furnishing in his apartment, and we quickly began to realize the state of their living situation. After dinner, Nikolai had asked to visit with me alone, where he shared a lot of personal information with me. It turns out that, due to a series of unfortunate events, Nikolai, his wife Jacinda, and their three kids were on the brink of being homeless. Nikolai had just lost one of his infant children and consequently lost his job due to his long hospital visits. The hospital bills began to pile up as well, resulting in their only choice being to dip into their savings, which now is completely gone.
 
In that conversation after dinner, Nikolai humbly asked for any kind of resource we could provide since he knew we went to church. I was torn because I didn’t know if we could fully trust him, at least when it came to money, because we had just met. But he is fairly new to Christianity and the church, so I wanted to do my best to represent Christ’s church to him. In one of the other conversations we had, Nikolai had told me about his recent experience with a church in the area.

He had found the church and was wanting to go, so he called them and asked if they could help in any way, to which they said they could. So he showed up in person, and one of the elders was there to greet him, but when the elder saw Nikolai’s sleeves of tattoos and his piercings, he immediately asked Nikolai if he worshiped Satan. As you can imagine, Nikolai was uncomfortable being there after that and was disappointed with the way he was treated. Because of this experience of his, we wanted him to feel the unconditional love of God through us and those willing to help.

Eventually, I was able to pray with him and offer some financial help to cover his food expenses for the remainder of the month, to which he was astounded and grateful. The following day, I reached out to as many establishments that I thought could help, as well as asking friends from church if they could pray for Nikolai and his family if they knew how to help in any way, or if they at least knew of a service that could.

What was originally a very stressful and daunting situation quickly turned into an experience of what the church in Acts 2 was like when it came to meeting each other’s needs.

Acts 2:44-45 reads, “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.”

A couple of our friends sent us money to give to Nikolai and his family, and a few others gave details on food pantries in the area that he could go to. Libby and I came to peace with giving their family more money than we initially thought we would because we decided to trust that God was using us to minister and connect with this family in need. Their groceries and their rent have been covered for this next month due to the generosity of God’s people, which gives Nikolai more time to get a stable job again. He had two opportunities lined up before we left, and he should have started them by now, so we’re praying they go well.

A verse that I love is John 15:5. Here, Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

I connect this verse to the situation with Nikolai because it was not by our efforts that he got help; it was God seeing the need and putting us in the position to be able to help. This verse is a good reminder to me and Libby of the importance of being the fruit of the vine and being that example to those we encounter. We all know actions speak louder than words, but nothing speaks louder than the Word.


Those Who Need It Most

I don’t know how it happens, but it is almost a certainty. I would host a youth group event, retreat, or lock-in, and they would find each other. Two people who had never met before would have similar backgrounds, and like moths to a flame, they would find each other. One experience comes to my memory. Independent of each other, I had two families call and ask if I would let their children come on our weekend retreat. Their children were acting up at home and in school, and they thought some rustic living and role models would help. I agreed; what harm could a few more kids be, and the more, the merrier.

On a bus ride to our local church camp, I couldn’t help but think, ‘These two boys should steer clear of each other.’ Yet, within thirty minutes of arriving, they had found each other like long-lost friends. The rest of the weekend was a whirlwind of chaos, with broken skylights and hurt feelings to mend.
Why? The plausible answer is that two outsiders with no friends saw kindred spirits and decided it was better to be together than alone. Those same kindred spirits recognized that causing mayhem got the attention of adults, and who wouldn’t like a little destruction? Two birds with one stone.
 
Looking back, even in the moments following, I don’t resent the things that happened. These boys were all dealing with the struggles of adolescence, the desire to fit in, and dysfunctional upbringings… they had internal struggles, but that doesn’t mean they were irredeemable. I realized this is an expected result: birds of a feather flock together, and the “troubled seek out trouble.” Jesus’ words encapsulate this thought,
 
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34).
 
We all have our troubles (things that bother us); we shouldn’t go inviting more trouble into our lives. But we do. We create trouble when we shouldn’t; we add to the chaos around us.
This principle also applies to our relationships. We often seek out those that are as troubled as we are. Intentionally or not, we find those who can commiserate with us and validate our fragility.
 
Consider that the tax collectors and sinners are always together… this isn’t disparaging those groups; Jesus sought them out, and so should we. We all desire to be around people similar to us in every dimension; it validates our identities. Without thinking, we want our groups to let us stay troubled and broken. Jesus is remarkable because he knew this and still inserted himself into the midst of the sick.

Mark 2:15-17 – “While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
 
Jesus’ words strike home. He points out two truths: sinners will seek out other sinners, and those who consider themselves righteous typically don’t. Jesus knows this isn’t the ideal scenario: If the healthy never attend to the sick, they will perpetually stay sick. He came to change that experience. Notice that Jesus doesn’t assert that the tax collectors and sinners are better or preferred but that they need help. They need a physician to come and give aid to that which ails them. 
 
Often, the righteous stay with the righteous, and the sinners stay with the sinners. And the two never mix. Paul also asserts that there must be a mingling in stating, “How can they believe in him whom they have never heard?” (Romans 10:13-15). Everyone needs to hear that they, too, were once sick, but now they have been made well and have been cleansed from all our sins.
This leaves us with two essential concepts to hold onto. We need to grasp both. We need to surround ourselves with the righteous—those who know the will of God and try to live by it. That gives us the support we need so that we don’t get infected by the world around us and so that we know what “health” looks like. And then, when we are well enough to do so, we must go to the sick.
 
Those boys from the camp retreat were only going to encourage each other to disregard authority and damage property. Had someone sought them out, they might have caused fewer problems. There needed to be someone to help them see a better option. Likewise, many people live outside of God’s will for them and don’t know there is a better option… they continue to rebel and push back against those around them. It is up to us to be healthy and take the message to those who need it most.
 


NEXT

Next.
I have seen both sides. When I first started my civilian government job, most of my peers were reluctant to teach me any of their responsibilities. They knew they had a niche and wanted their position to remain relevant and maintain their status as a crucial element in the organization. In other words, they were reluctant to teach me aspects of their occupation because they wanted job security… which is absurd. After all, it is almost impossible to fire a federal employee. Yet, they were stuck in the mindset of withholding or reserving information so that they were irreplaceable.

There was a markedly different atmosphere within military circles. Due to the dynamic nature of the military, the turnover rate is significantly higher. Most organizations adhere to the “Next Man Up” approach, a mentality that empowers individuals to learn the responsibilities, duties, and skills of the person two levels above them in leadership. This approach instills a sense of capability and readiness, as it implies that you will be the next person in a certain situation at some point, and that you should prepare for it and believe in yourself for when that transition inevitably happens.

There are many reasons for these two vastly different approaches to roles and responsibilities. Each position or location in the military is temporary and unpredictable; you never plan for longevity, only accomplishing the mission. In the civilian world, most desire stability and permanence; people want to set down roots for 20-30 years until they can retire. Maintaining a position for any length of time requires one word: comfort. If you are uncomfortable, you will quickly move. Therefore, of these two mindsets, one prioritizes mission, and the other prioritizes comfort.

What should our mentality be as Christ-followers? 2 Corinthians 4:7- 18 informs us how temporary or transient our position is in this world and that we should prepare for something greater. We have missed the point if we are focused solely on the comfort we can attain in this short and passing time. Training or discipling, others is the purpose of the Great Commission, you want to create disciples, you want someone to replace you. You don’t want to hold onto the position that you have indefinitely; you want to grow and move forward. Too many people are content in their comfortable roles and never see a need to move up.

The changeover rate in the military is understandably high. Organizations constantly change; people relocate, deploy, separate, and retire. In the field, people can become unfit for service in many ways, and their positions will need to be filled for the mission to continue. Conflict’s very nature means you will lose teammates along the way. Ephesians 6 and John’s Revelation confirm that we are also at war. A great battle rages around us, and we will lose traveling companions along the way. The question is not “if” or “when,” but how will we replace them?

Perhaps the most profound realization we can have is that the Kingdom is bigger than us. We are all temporary, but the church will endure (Matthew 16:18). Therefore, our mission should be to train our replacements. If we are not training others (discipling), we are failing the mission and the Great Commission. We should also be actively seeking who we can replace and if we are capable of doing so. This commitment to training replacements is a testament to our dedication and faith in the mission.

You will be replaced. You will replace someone.
 
We all must ask the question about what comes Next.


“I’m my own son.”

“I am my own son.”

Milo, in his innocent and playful nature, loves to engage in these morning games. He’ll wake up and cheerfully call out, “Mom, Dad, I’m ready to wake up!” Then, as I enter his room, he’ll gleefully hide under the covers, pretending to be missing. He wants me to play along, to pretend that I can’t find him, “Where is Milo?” He must have vanished.” When I eventually find him, I’ll ask if he is indeed “Milo.” This morning, his response was not what I had expected… when I asked who he was, he stated, “I am a son.” Thinking it would be a cute exchange, I said, “Whose son are you?” What came next was not what I had expected… “I am my own son,” he confidently asserted. Silly boy. 

In his own unique way, Milo asserted his autonomy, declaring that he only had to answer for himself. This resonates with our culture, which often grapples with authority of any kind. We tend to assert that we are the masters of our destiny and that we have no one to answer to. This cultural struggle perhaps explains why one of the most quoted phrases from the Decalogue (ten commandments) in the New Testament is, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12).

“Honor your father and mother,” is a seemingly simple phrase, yet it carries a profound weight. As Paul later states, it holds a promise of a prosperous existence. For a child, this earliest relational bond is formed with the framework of honoring and esteeming their parents. God wants us to grasp, from our earliest memories, the significance of assigning value to those who gave us life. Because if we can revere flawed and imperfect people with such significance, how much more will we be able to honor our Father in heaven.

When Jesus first quotes this particular instruction, he wants to ensure that we understand the gravity of what is at stake as he trains the Pharisees and Scribes on God’s intentions.
 
Matthew 15:1-9 – “Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” 3 He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 5 But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” 6 he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. 7 You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: 8 “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 9 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”

Each time the word used here for honor is the Greek word τιμάω timáō, and it means to prize or fix a valuation upon; to revere —honor. What Jesus is calling into question is the hypocrisy of the religious leaders. He informs them that honor connects to the value or priority that you place on this relationship and, by approximation, the commands of God. 

You cannot say that you honor your parents and, in the same way, dishonor them. You also can’t praise God with your lips and then give Him no significance in your heart. It is easy to conclude what people value the most. Jesus says as much in his Sermon on the Mount: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). 
 
Milo was only being silly, and what he wanted most was to be tickled, so he said something outrageous to get my attention. My concern is that many people honor God with their lips but do not treasure Him. They are like the Pharisees and scribes, looking for loopholes and workarounds. They see God’s principles and void them so that they may honor themselves. And when we do this, we become our own master, and we proudly declare, “I am my own son.”  


Sacrifice

At my last congregation on Sunday mornings, there were two services. The services were very similar, except that one was at 8:30, and the other started at 10:30, with a Bible class period in between. Other differences included the fact that the first service was generally attended by a slightly more “aged” group, and there were fewer attendees. Because of these differences, it was difficult to find people willing to wake up early on a Sunday morning and participate in the service by leading prayers, songs, or communion. 
 
Young men often desired to lead songs for the second assembly. However, the unwritten policy was that to lead at the second service, you must first lead at the early service. You can imagine how many people would flat-out refuse this request. I’ve heard every excuse feasible for why they were unable to serve in that capacity. It produced one of my favorite sayings, “There’s no service without sacrifice.”  
 
Many Christians do not understand this principle. You must be willing to give up a part of your life, a piece of yourself if you are going to serve others. If you are merely skating by and taking the easiest path possible, I guarantee you are missing the point. Reflect with me on this parable of Jesus.
 
Luke 14:15-24 – “When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” 16 But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. 17 And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ 18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ 19 And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ 20 And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ 21 So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ 22 And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ 23 And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.”
 
There are 1001 excuses to avoid serving others. There are 1001 excuses not to place Jesus as the most important person in your life. Not a single excuse presented in the parable was “bad,” they all had merit and were at least plausible. I have avoided some social situations with less impressive reasoning. Yet, Jesus’ prescribed sentiment is that the excuse-makers will not participate in the party. Relegating the things of Jesus to secondary matters does not please him.
 
I have met plenty of people who want to serve in the church, but they always want to serve on their terms. They want to participate when it is convenient for their lifestyle and directions. I am not suggesting that you check every box or perform every function to be considered a follower of Christ that nullifies the goodness of the gospel. However, if your Christian walk requires no sacrifice, how quickly will you turn away when actual persecutions come (Matthew 13:20-21)? I suggest that a life devoid of sacrifice is an indicator of your heart, and if you want to be a Christian without sacrifice, then you should reread the life of the person you are following.
Immediately following the passage about the great feast, Jesus provides this instruction.
 
Luke 14:27 – “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”
 
Make a list; what are you willing to give up following Jesus? Friends, family, wealth, time, energy, health… Now, find the very last thing on your list; that is what we must sacrifice if we are going to put Jesus first in our lives. It might seem inconsequential, but what is the difference between waking up at 7:30 and 8:30 on a Sunday morning… it isn’t much, but if we are just working Jesus into our schedule… who is the Master, and who is the servant? There is no service without sacrifice. 


Condemnation

For the second time in three years, I was selected to participate in the juror selection process for the Franklin County Court. After a morning of waiting, the lawyers agreed upon their panel and dismissed me from the juror pool. However, while I waited, the bailiff told us that Franklin County has approximately 2300 cases backlogged, and all of these individuals are awaiting their day in court. How exhausting it would be to wait for your trial to begin. Whether you consider yourself guilty or innocent, waiting that long would drain anyone of hope and energy.

The defendant was accused of armed robbery and assault with a deadly weapon. It is not a trivial case, but one that greatly affected both parties. However, the part that astonished me was the date of this alleged event: February 20, 2021. Where were you on that day? What were your whereabouts? Who did you talk to? What did you say? If I looked back at a calendar, I could figure out where I was, but I don’t think I could tell you about any conversations that day. I am sure that day has more significance for the parties involved in that case than it does for me. For them, those questions are probably seared into their memories. However, after that much time, I am sure that details have been misremembered or forgotten.

Two weeks ago, on Sunday morning, as we studied Galatians, we analyzed what it means to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit. As we dissected the passage, we came to one of Jesus’ more pressing discourses on the fruit that is evident in our lives.

Matthew 12:33-37 – “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Consider these words of Jesus. There will come a day when we must give an account for all the things we have said. Rightfully so, as we serve a just and righteous God, we should all be prepared to share what we did in this world with the time we were given. Similarly to the defendant in the court case, we must share where we were on February 20, 2021. Here’s what I probably can guarantee… I was more than likely guilty of missing God’s mark of holiness on that day or one of the adjoining days.

I can imagine myself attempting to give an account of my life. I would stutter and stammer at my moral failures. Line by line, word by word, I would grasp the tragedy of my life. Every thoughtless word, every cruel deed… accounted for. After a lifetime of trying, I know that I will have missed the mark, I know that I will receive the verdict of- GUILTY. Thankfully, Jesus, the Son of the living God, will advocate for us in our bleakest case.

1 John 2:1-6 – “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. 3 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: 6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”

I love how this passage does not give us a license to sin, but for those in Christ, we have the best defense lawyer on retainer. Not only will Jesus represent us, but he has also already paid for my failures. And yet, I must give an account. Combining this passage with Jesus’ statements in Matthew 12, we must understand that our treasures, the part of my life that I have buried deep down within our hearts, demonstrate if we genuinely know and love God. We do this by “walking in the same way in which he walked.” Walking as Christ did doesn’t make me innocent of my crimes, but rather an acknowledgment that my sins are paid for, just not by me.

Romans 7:24-8:2 – “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”

We deserved a sentence of death; however, we received the sentence of life because we were represented by Jesus. This should propel us to not live according to deeds of the flesh but by walking in the Spirit. We deserved to be condemned for every careless word and deed; however, we can stand before the throne of righteousness covered by the blood of Jesus, where there is no longer any condemnation.


Broken Teeth

 
 
Theo has started losing his “baby” teeth. I find the whole process a little traumatic… for me. First, the teeth begin to wriggle and become loose, and as time progresses, you can see the gums recede a little more, making future extraction easier. Last week, the sequence came to a head; his permanent teeth were beginning to push his deciduous teeth out of the way, stretching the nerve and causing him some discomfort. The “toothlings” needed to come out. Thankfully, his fantastic mom came to the rescue and plucked the temporary biters from their impermanent location.
 
Theo was immediately proud of his new toothless smile. For him, it was a marker of maturity and growing older. Most of his friends had already lost some of their teeth, and he was anticipating the day when he could show them that he, too, was in that prestigious club. We didn’t anticipate how this event would affect his youngest brother, Milo. As soon as Milo saw the vacant tooth cavity, he screamed, “I don’t like broken teeth!” When he first saw the hole where the tooth had been, it had not finished bleeding yet… it was a disturbing sight. He squealed and ran away, causing his older brother to chase him around the house.
 
Under most circumstances, we are not supposed to lose teeth. It is ordinarily traumatic. We usually wouldn’t promote ripping your teeth out to demonstrate your maturity. If you encountered a person tugging on their incisors and claiming to be older because of it, you would consider them foolish. However, we celebrate this stage when we know that removing temporary teeth is healthy and a natural byproduct of aging. We approve because better; newer teeth are coming in to replace the “baby” teeth—a more permanent solution to what previously existed.
 
2 Corinthians 5:14-17 – “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; 15 and He died for all, so that those who live would no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose on their behalf. 16 Therefore from now on we recognize no one by the flesh; even though we have known Christ by the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. 17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, this person is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”
 
There are a lot of Christ-followers that are still living for themselves. They hold on to the life formerly there, never accepting being a new creation. It is like inserting your deciduous teeth into your mouth because you want to enjoy your food more. You can’t grow older and hold onto your youth; our youth is intended to be momentary; we are meant to grow older; it is a part of God’s perfect design for our lives. Life after Christ is transformative; it is better, and you become a new creation. Let us not go back to the days before our new life. “The old has gone the new has come”, so don’t be upset by your old broken teeth.


Being Available

Being Available
 
“How you do anything is how you will do everything.” – Source Unknown.
 
How did I get here? It’s one of the most frequent questions that people ask me and that I ask myself. How did I end up ministering to a wonderful group of people in Richland, WA? The short answer is “by the provision and direction of God.” However, the long answer has many more twists and turns. If you were to summarize the direction of my life, you could do so with one phrase: “being available.” 
 
I am not the most educated, well-spoken, or Christ-like person. I have no formal training in what I do; I left high school and joined the military, intending never to pursue a career in ministry. I am deeply flawed and inconsistent in how I approach ministry- sometimes, I burn hot and other times, I am lukewarm. What I try to do is, more often than not, I try to live by two principles espoused by Jesus: the greatest commands (Mark 12:29-31) and “zeal for your house will consume me.” (John 2:17). 
 
For me, this means loving God and His people more than anything else. I am not saying I do this perfectly, or even close to that, but I believe it is how I got here. 
 
When I was 18, the Air Force sent me to Minot AFB, ND. I worshipped with that congregation for only one month when the minister asked me to visit, and after a short informal interview, he asked if I wanted to teach the Jr. High/High School class. What had I done to garner this responsibility? I made it a point to be available. That is probably an understatement. I was there if the doors were open, worship times, workdays, potlucks, and even softball games. This mindset used to be the norm; however, now it is an anomaly. I was given opportunities to serve and be useful to God’s kingdom by merely being present.
 
Opportunities like this have followed me everywhere I have gone. I taught twice a week while I was in South Korea. When I moved to Albuquerque, I taught all age groups until, after seven years and with a lot of external encouragement, I applied for the full-time youth minister position. Yet, I never set out to be a teacher; I merely wanted to be involved. I do not believe I am not an aberration; there was a person who was the epitome of this in the New Testament, Barnabas. We often think of him only as the “encourager,” but his character and mindset were pivotal for the growth of the early church. Look at each of these passages. 
 
Act 4:36-37– “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.”
 
What is Barnabas going to do? The early church needed funding… he donates the proceeds from his property. Later on, when there is a report of rapid growth in Antioch, the leaders in Jerusalem ask Barnabas to go and check it out (Acts 11:22). You can imagine other people avoiding the journey. In contrast, Barnabas accepts the task because he is available.
 
Then, when a young man named Saul converts from being a zealous Jew from the sect of the Pharisees, Barnabas travels to Damascus, reaches out to Saul, and takes him to Jerusalem. 
 
Act 9:22, 27 – “Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah. … 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.”
 
And then, when the opportunity came for the body and message of Christ to move across the Aegean Sea, who would they send? It was the guy who had been available every other time, the guy who accepted every other opportunity that came his way. 
 
Act 13:1-3– “Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.”
 
I am still trying to figure out why I am where I am. What I have figured out is that whenever someone needs a servant, I can be there. Whether it is a moving party, workday, Bible class teacher, or a voice singing within a congregation, it may seem simple, but it caused the church to grow in the New Testament and will cause a body to flourish today. When people have big aspirations for a church to grow, I will always return to the Barnabas principle: are there workers? Are people willing to do everything for the body of Christ? More importantly, are people committed to simply “Being Available”? 


Taxes

It’s Tax Day across America, April 15, when we pay our “dues” for the country that we live in. Some we feel are justifiably required, others are frivolous, and still, some we think are pure theft. It seems almost ironic that a country once embroiled in a revolution over taxation would one day require so many of them later.
 
However, taxes are precisely how a populous would fund their local or national government. American realist Benjamin Franklin supposed as much, stating:

“Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
—Benjamin Franklin, in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Le Roy, 1789
 
Two certainties are death and taxes, and no matter how much you try to avoid either, at some point, your audit will come due, and you will have to settle your account. There are always some notable celebrities who have ineffectually dodged taxation for a while until, finally, they are served a heavy fine for their evasion. I know many people dread April 15 more than any day of the year; one in particular would wait until April 15 to file for an extension. Not only could he not pay, but he also couldn’t bring himself to think of having to pay in the future. I am not a fan of taxes, but I cannot think of a better way to pay for many systems that care for the infrastructure and citizens around me. And so, like Franklin, it accepts the certainty of taxes.
 
Death and taxes are uncomfortable realities in this world. Most people avoid them because of the stress they bring. There is a part of us that knows the finality of the “deadline,” a specific date when there is no longer any time to adjust our ledger. Paul reveals this truth in his second letter to the church in Corinth.
 
2 Corinthians 5:10 – “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive compensation for his deeds done through the body, in accordance with what he has done, whether good or bad.”
 
The anticipation of this event can be both comforting and disturbing. For most of us, we probably view it the same way we view Tax Day: We know it is coming, but we don’t want to consider what is actually due. I imagine many people would like to file an extension to extend their date. However, the reality is that we are merely reaping the product of our conduct.
 
Thankfully, the passage does not end there; Paul continues, describing that there is a way to erase every wrongdoing. He effectively communicates that these transgressions will not be counted against us when the final tally is taken.
 
2 Corinthians 5:18-21- “Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their wrongdoings against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin in our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
 
There is no thought more amazing than the words contained in verse 21. Even though Jesus never sinned, all our sins were charged or accounted to him so that we might be as righteous as he is. We all owe more wages (death) than we could ever repay, yet we will not have to pay that price. When that day of accounting arrives, and we stand before the throne, we enter that peace, knowing that through Jesus Christ, not a single wrongdoing will be counted against us.
 
It would be like our federal government sending you a letter informing you that you will never have to pay taxes again. No sales, income, or property tax will ever be charged. The benefits you receive have been paid in full, and you never have to worry about getting a “past due” notice in the mail. While taxes may be a necessity or certainty in this life, when you are washed in the blood of Christ, your sins are remembered no more, and you don’t have to worry about paying your final taxes.
 
 
“Be not as one that hath ten thousand years to live; death is nigh at hand: while thou livest, while thou hast time, be good.”
Marcus Aurelius


Bathtubs

Entering my fourth decade, I’ve spent enough time on this planet to know a few things. One fear sells. When people are worried, they buy or acquire items to help them in a crisis. And number two, there is a new disaster to worry about every decade. Many of us remember Y2K, and we were encouraged to prepare for the end of the digital age; computers will crash, and financial markets will suffer… we should all fill our bathtubs with water and prepare for the end of the world at midnight.
 
Then again, in 2012, based on the calculations of the Mayans, the world was going to end. Doomsday predictors caused many people to fret about how the world would end, and once again, we should fill our bathtubs with water.
 
Although on a different scale, I have even heard about the predictions concerning today’s solar eclipse. This is it, the big one—there will be power surges, terrorist activity, and crumbling infrastructure. And what I have learned is that I need to fill my bathtub with water.
 
If I have just enough water, I can survive for a few more days. If everything crumbles around me, I can outlast my neighbors and hopefully emerge into a new world. I always think, “What happens if that next cataclysm lasts longer than a few days?” You can buy supplies that last six months- what if you need to survive seven months? No matter how much you plan or what you are worried about, there will come a time when something truly unexpected happens.
 
2 Peter 3:10-14 – “But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment. 11 Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live, 12 looking forward to the day of God and hurrying it along. On that day, he will set the heavens on fire, and the elements will melt away in the flames. 13 But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness. 14 And so, dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in his sight.”
 
We anticipate the world to come, not by stocking up on supplies and hoarding drinking water, but by living in a way that pleases God. Those unexpected moments will happen to each of us, and our response should be whether we have become pure and blameless in God’s sight. The answer for those washed in the blood of the Lamb is a resounding “Yes.” We might be preparing for the next big disaster and even live as though the sky is perpetually falling. You might decide to live with your bathtub full of water, hoping it will provide you with some security. However, at some point, that water will run dry. At some point, you will need to find a true water source. I encourage you to tell your loved ones about the well that never runs dry.
 
John 4:13-14 – “Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. 14 But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”
 
Then, you won’t have to worry about filling up your bathtubs.


Foolish

 
April Fool’s Day. I have never been one for pranking others. Sure, every once in a while, it is fun to hide and scare someone (and in a church building, it happens often). Some people get into elaborate pranks; throughout the ages, companies, presidents, and even entire countries have tried to fool others on the first day of April. In the military, there were simple, harmless pranks where you would ask a new airman to get a fresh exhaust sample from a forklift, hand them a garbage bag, and watch the hilarity ensue. 
 
The pulpit minister at my previous job was an expert prankster; some people changed his name from Rick Hankins to Rick “Prankins.” An electrician by trade, he made a practice of wiring metal doorknobs to provide low-voltage shocks for any unsuspecting victim. There was nothing and nowhere safe on the first day of April. I encountered my fair share of pranks, and onlookers always wondered if I ever wanted to get even with him. But this is the reality: there is no “getting even,” only a continual process of pranks progressively becoming more intense. One time, I thought I could prank Rick. I waited for him to go on vacation and filled his entire office with balloons. Only to find out the next time I left, he glitter-bombed my desk and then wrapped it in plastic wrap. So, I quickly concluded that at some point, I would always be the fool and give up trying to out-prank him.  
 
Luke 12:13-21 – “Then someone called from the crowd, “Teacher, please tell my brother to divide our father’s estate with me.” 14 Jesus replied, “Friend, who made me a judge over you to decide such things as that?” 15 Then he said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.” 16 Then he told them a story: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. 17 He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ 18 Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. 19 And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!”‘ 20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’ 21 “Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.”
 
There is a type of fool who desires to chase the things of this world. It becomes an insatiable quest. Before Jesus tells this parable, the desire for the things of this world had come between two brothers; even more heartbreaking, it is happening as they grieve their father’s death. This is precisely the fool’s errand, to pursue something that has no end, to chase after something that becomes all-consuming. Paul would write to the church in Colosse mourning this mentality, 
 
“They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth. 20 But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior.” (Philippians 3:19-20). 
 
The contrast between these groups of people is evident. One chases after only things on this earth, and the other is secure because they are citizens in heaven, where gold has no value and where moths and rust do not destroy.
 
Foolishness. There is always a level of “one-up-man-ship” when pranking someone. However, in the end, both will inevitably be the fool. The only way to come out ahead is not to participate. The same goes for placing our hopes in the things of this world. If we chase the treasures of this world, we participate in a cycle that leaves us playing fools. It will harm our closest relationships and eventually disappear, and perhaps that is the greatest prank of all to invest time, energy, and resources into something that will not last forever. Instead, store up your relationship with God so you will not be considered foolish. 


Fall Into Temptation

We have all stumbled across the “Serenity Prayer” at some point in our lives. Attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr, it contains a lot of truth. You may be surprised that it is longer than the abbreviated opening stanza. After reading it, you will understand why most organizations omit the second half.

“God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.
 
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next. Amen.”
 
This poem contains some truths about life. There are so many things that I cannot change, and more troubling, there are many things that are “not as I would have it.” Reinhold powerfully observes that many of the things that trouble us are due to the sinful/fallen world we live in.
 
Like most siblings, our three boys know how to push each other’s buttons. Sometimes, it is malicious and intentional, and sometimes, it happens by living in proximity to other humans. All children can be highly reactionary, and Milo has figured out that it is fun to watch his brothers explode when things aren’t going their way. My job as a parent is to teach them that no matter what is happening to them, they are only responsible for how they react. Someone can take your favorite toy, you might fall off your bike, or someone might call you a rude name; however, these things can only bother you as much as you let them. So I give them that sage fatherly advice: “Don’t let him bug you.”
 
The world can and will relentlessly and mercilessly throw obstacles and trials at us, and as Christ-followers, we must know how to respond and discover how to be like Christ in the most challenging moments.
 
The synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke record Jesus’ moments before his betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus knows that for his disciples, this will be a situation far outside of their control and not the way they would have it. He knows their entire paradigm and worldview will be turned upside down. Amid his agony, he gives them instructions to consider. Here is Luke’s account:
 
Luke 22:39-46 – “39 And He came out and went, as was His habit, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples also followed Him. 40 Now when He arrived at the place, He said to them, “Pray that you do not come into temptation.” 41 And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and [began] to pray, 42 saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” 43 [Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. 44 And being in agony, He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground]. 45 When He rose from prayer, He came to the disciples and found them sleeping from sorrow, 46 and He said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you do not come into temptation.”
 
The temptation for them and all of us is to Abandon, Disown, and Deny. When you are presented with challenging and “button-pushing” situations, you may desire to rebel against God, question His goodness, disregard His authority, and ignore His provision for us. These temptations are real and persistent; Jesus’ words are for us to prepare for them, asking God to assist us before they happen. Jesus knows what is about to happen, and he wants his disciples to pray that they are prepared to act the way he will when the temptation comes. We know the narrative, except for John (who follows at a distance); they all fall into this snare.
 
Although they all stumbled to an extent, the hindsight of Jesus’ words would serve them well in the future. Whether they were about to be beaten, imprisoned, or executed- I am confident they prayed they would not fall into that same temptation.
 
On a far smaller scale, this is my same request for my kids. We don’t have to be reactionary, exploding, or imploding when things do not go our intended way. Someone may hurt us, a disease may disrupt our plans, or we may have stumbled in our walk, but our goal is to prepare for the next opportunity and ask God so He can strengthen us for the next time. So that we won’t abandon, disown, or deny Him. Our sufferings can leave scars and wounds that are imperceptible yet very real; however, it is up to me how I let it affect me. No matter what the world throws at me, I don’t have to fall into temptation.


Healthy Motivations

It might be the new American pastime, weight loss. Everywhere you turn, there is a new system or plan to drop some unwanted pounds. Rightfully so, according to the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institute for Health, 73.6% of Americans are overweight. Studies have shown that even a moderate loss of 10 pounds lowers the risks of cardiovascular diseases, such as kidney disease, high cholesterol, and hypertension. A quick online AI search will give you the following internal improvements: a healthier immune system, reduced joint pain, increased life expectancy, better sleep, more energy, improved memory, less anxiety, and a better mood. 
 
Even with all these health benefits, most people’s true motivation is to be more attractive to others. In other words, we want to be a little slimmer not for the intrinsic value but for the way we will look. As we age, we become more concerned with the health benefits, but on some level, we are consumed with our external appearance and how that might improve if we only lost some poundage.
  
As I write this, I am cathartically discussing my journey. Personally, I want to lose a few extra pounds, but sometimes, I find the health benefits to be a poorly recognizable metric. I won’t be able to perceive some of these internal outcomes for a long time, if ever. However, I can see the results in the mirror.  
 
In our class on Galatians, we have been studying how easy it was for that early church to want to adhere to the Mosaic Law. It is nice to have easily defined measurables that provide instant feedback. You are circumcised, or you aren’t, whether you eat kosher meals or you don’t—clear cut and definitive. Yet Paul makes it known that being a follower of Christ is about a change of heart because of faith. It reminds me of our Life Group Study in Mark, as Jesus addressed the objection of the Pharisees regarding the washing of hands.
 
Mark 7:14-15, 17-23 – “After He called the crowd to Him again, He [began] saying to them, “Listen to Me, all of you, and understand: 5 there is nothing outside the person which can defile him if it goes into him, but the things which come out of the person are what defile the person.”… And when He later entered a house, away from the crowd, His disciples asked Him about the parable. And He said to them, “Are you so lacking in understanding as well? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the person from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?” (Thereby He declared all foods clean.) And He was saying, “That which comes out of the person, that is what defiles the person. “For from within, out of the hearts of people, come the evil thoughts, acts of sexual immorality, thefts, murders, acts of adultery, deeds of greed, wickedness, deceit, indecent behavior, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. “All these evil things come from within and defile the person.”
 
It is easy to get into the idea of external measurables, actions like washing your hands or keeping the Sabbath to demonstrate your piety. Looking inward and discovering the root of your spiritual unhealthiness is far different. Additionally, when we only focus on those items that are externally measurable, we neglect or avoid those issues that are harder to change. Notice that Jesus doesn’t tell the crowds not to wash their hands but that there is a deeper issue and, more importantly, a better motivating factor. He advises them to consider the proximity of their hearts to God (Mark 7:6).
 
There are no spiritual cholesterol tests or heart monitors to diagnose these issues; You must discover and eliminate these roadblocks as you walk in the light. Thankfully, God has blessed us with His Spirit to reveal to us these things (John 16:13) so that our hearts do not hold onto these devastating ailments. 
 
I encourage you to reflect on these thoughts over the next week and whether you are merely focusing on the externals of your faith or whether you are drawing near to God with healthy motivations. 


Try.

Crunch. An innocent onomatopoeia- that carries a lot of weight. We enjoy the word when we are dealing with cereal but despise the word when we are driving a car. Anyone who has ever experienced even the slightest buckling of plastic and metal knows the sinking feeling of dread when your vehicle strikes another object. Whether it is your fault or not, few people want to inspect the damage after the smallest of fender benders.
 
Hopefully, you are adequately insured so that the sting of an accident is not as painful.
Insurance is a bizarre concept in our society. There are different types of insurance, and each category carries a different expectation if you ever use it.
Auto- probably, but hopefully not.
Health- absolutely, and optimistically, it will adequately defer significant costs.
Life- I certainly hope not.

You can safeguard a vacation or event in case you can’t attend, accepting the randomness of life and how quickly it can change. Some people enter marriage with a form of insurance called a pre-nuptial agreement, hedging their assets in the event that their relationship doesn’t work out. Many businesses require a deposit to avoid losing money if a particular obligation is missed. The reality is that most people and transactions plan to fail. As we have seen, most people use an insurance policy knowing there will be a mishap and place a guarantee on that instance.
We do the same thing in our relationship with God. However, we know two main things: 1) God is Faithful and True (Psalms 33:4), and “blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7).
 
Many people see a passage like this and emphasize the promise of cleansing and use this as some eternal insurance; a proverbial “get-out-of-jail-free card,” knowing that when they mess up, there will be reparation for their slip. However, John does not write this to encourage a “license to sin.” Instead, the entire context is to persuade us to “walk in the light.”
 
1 John 1:5-8 “5 This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
 
An intriguing passage to consider: choosing to walk in the light carries the understanding that you must also be willing to admit to your failings. The first paradigm to consider is that the character of God measures the entire passage. God doesn’t simply dwell in the light; He is light. Therefore, to have true communion, walking with Him, we should attempt to remove all forms of darkness from our lives. However, we all know the difference between “trying” and trying. An easy earthly example is that some people try to lose weight but don’t change any habits, while others change their diet and activity levels to succeed in their goals. Some people “try” to walk in the light, and some people strive to walk in the light.
John will put it this way as he continues the same thought in the next chapter. Once again, this isn’t an insurance policy we want to use, but it is there when we need it.
 
1 John 2:1-6 – “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world. 3 Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. 6 He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.”
 
John’s first statement holds the intention “so that you may not sin.” The desire is for us to abstain from the sinful world around us. We have a righteous Advocate who has paid the price, and therefore, we are empowered to walk in the light. The phrase bookends this thought: “ought… to walk as He walked.” We know that Jesus was sinless and perfect, a humanly impossible achievement; John previously mentioned that our first step in walking in the light is to admit that we have sinned (1 John 1:8).
Our attitudes and lives should be that we do not want to sin. We desire to walk in the light. We thank God that there is a payment for our past and future transgressions. However, our goal is not to indulge the passions of the flesh but to walk as Jesus walked. Just because it is difficult does not mean we shouldn’t Try.