Silent Night

Patience is not a strong suit for humans. I experience this every day. Every Sunday, I take one boy with me to get a donut and spend a little time with me before church begins. (As a bonus, they get to spend time with Judy Hagman, which is the true high point of their morning.) With three boys, the rotation is almost too long for them to bear. Theo manages the wait well because he understands the process. On the other hand, Milo really struggles, and for three weeks straight, he will ask every day if it is his turn to “Get donut?”
This scenario demonstrates that waiting is a part of maturing. The older we get, the better at waiting we should become. As we age, the way we experience time seems to speed up. This is partly due to the fact that we are able to wait and endure at a more experienced pace. My boys have been checking “How many days until Christmas?” for about two weeks.
Meanwhile, I know when it will arrive and hardly pay it glancing thought. I know that checking progress on the calendar does not speed it up or slow down the holiday’s arrival. Therefore, I can wait because it will get here when it gets here. 
The book of Lamentations is a reflection of the sorrow of God’s people. The Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and took many of its inhabitants from their homes. The people of Judah have become wandering captives, and there is little comfort or solace for their grieving. Amid this doom and gloom, sorrow, and misery, the writer reflects that, regardless of circumstances, patiently waiting for God’s salvation is the most reasonable action because of the goodness of God’s character. 
Lamentations 3:25-33 – “The LORD is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him. 26 So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the LORD. 27 And it is good for people to submit at an early age to the yoke of his discipline: 28 Let them sit alone in silence beneath the LORD’s demands. 29 Let them lie face down in the dust, for there may be hope at last. 30 Let them turn the other cheek to those who strike them and accept the insults of their enemies. 31 For no one is abandoned by the Lord forever. 32 Though he brings grief, he also shows compassion because of the greatness of his unfailing love. 33 For he does not enjoy hurting people or causing them sorrow.”
The writer of Lamentations gives three primary reasons to trust in God: 
·       God does not abandon anyone forever.
·       God’s unfailing love.
·       God does not enjoy hurting anyone or causing sorrow. 
Because of these realities, the writer asserts that the best thing we can do is wait. Waiting can be extremely frustrating. When I tell my boys to be patient, it drives them crazy, but sometimes we must wait for God.
There is not a lot we can do, and so we wait. Some adjectives denote this waiting; the text instructs us to wait quietly and silently. In the case of Lamentations, it carries the connotation of meditating on why you are in this position; for that, they are bearing the consequences of their actions. Sometimes, we also must accept that our actions have put us in a tough position. Acknowledging this does not excuse us from hardship; rather, it helps to put us in a proper perspective. Still, we wait quietly in anticipation of deliverance.  
Relief is what ultimately drives those who are waiting on God, the understanding that there is salvation ahead. The writer here says to wait with our face down in the dust. To properly esteem our position in light of God’s glory, and this is what will provide us hope. It is not the action of waiting that provides deliverance; it is also not my proactivity; it is the recognition of who God is and accepting that He will care for those who depend on Him.  
The original readers of Lamentations did not experience a restoration from their exile. They remained in a foreign land for the rest of their lives. Although this could be discouraging, it should not keep us from relying on God. For us to trust in God is a benefit; it renews our strength and restores our souls in ways that personal reliance cannot touch. 
Waiting in silence reminds me of a night when all of creation eagerly awaited the moment God would put on flesh and walk among us. And although waiting is hard, God did this in the perfect time. As Paul writes:
 Galatians 4:4-5 – “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5 so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons and daughters.”
No amount of calendar counting, or eager anticipation could change God’s perfect timing. Those are principles far about our influence or pay grade. Humanity, like the rest of creation, is bound to trust in God and wait for Him and His salvation in our own Silent Night. 


I have been fighting some illness for over three weeks. It started as a cough, and today, I woke up, and my voice was gone. Perhaps I am prone to it disappearing, or maybe it is an occupational hazard; whatever the reason, my voice disappears once a season. It doesn’t hurt, so I continually push my vocal cords, stressing them more. Medical advice would be to rest and soothe them with several home remedies. Yet, my stubbornness overwhelms me, and I ignore the advice of health experts, and I typically pay the price for my stubbornness.
It reminds me of the sin that so easily entangles us. Often, sin comes in waves, and there are seasons of our lives inundated with periods where our souls are attacked. Sometimes, it is a personal tragedy that overwhelms us and draws us farther from God; other times, we are stressed from our day-to-day lives and seek to find pleasure in some form of immediate self-gratification. Still, there are other times when it seems that out of the blue, there is something that pulls us away from a beneficial walk with God.
The Bible gives sound advice on how to thwart sin, but we think we can push through it and muster and rally ourselves to a righteous position. We imagine that if we try harder, we will succeed and finally beat sin by exerting our will over it. 
On the contrary, the advice of our spiritual advisers is to steer in the opposite direction. 
Matthew 6:33- “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided to you.”
Our knee-jerk reaction is to find our sin and tackle it head-on, to wrestle it, and dominate it. Yet, we should instead pursue the more positive things, and the sin that surrounds us will begin to disappear. We know we need to put away anger and malice; however, if I focus on those attitudes, it becomes difficult to separate them from my character. If, instead, I am pursuing gentleness and kindness, those two previous qualities have diminishing returns in my life. By seeking God’s things, I avoid the cares and concerns of the world, pursuing that which is noble instead of merely trying to evade the pitfalls around me. James will put it like this in his epistle. 
James 4:8-10 NLT – “Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. 9 Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.”
It is by drawing closer to God and resolving to follow Him that frees us. We often are so focused on the prison walls that we forget we already have the key. We become consumed with the wrong emphasis. Our sorrow and sadness are the recognition that we need God; therefore, by acknowledging this, we can fully turn to Him. This is that vital act of humility- the dying to ourselves that ultimately exalts us. 
We can attempt to gain righteousness and wholeness on our own. At some point, we will recognize that this is an impossible endeavor. There is no amount of effort we can ever accomplish to become pure or whole. Instead, we should rest in Jesus, who is able to save us. 
“Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25 ESV). 
The more I push my voice, the longer it will take to heal, and the more I live only to avoid sin, the more I will become exhausted from my tiresome efforts. Instead, I seek first, draw near, and God will draw nearer to me, saving me from my illnesses.  

Bowl of Soup

Bowl of Soup

I love autumn and winter for many reasons, but one of my favorite reasons is that I get to eat soups. Call me strange, but I like soup, although it is not fun to eat when it is 110 degrees outside. Amanda makes some dynamite soups, and I can’t wait for cooler weather to roll in so that the soups can come out. There is an ongoing debate that Amanda and I have with some of our old friends. Is soup a meal?
This question turns out to be very nuanced. It depends on what kind of soup and what you are serving with the soup. There are broths and consommés, or chowders and bisques- and these range from thin to thick; it depends on what you put into the soup. Is it just stock, or have you chopped up an entire cow and let that simmer on low heat? Will it be served with saltine crackers, bread, or cornbread?
There are a few different ways to consider whether or not soups are a meal. Some believe that soup is not and will never be a meal; it is merely a warm beverage with meat and vegetable chunks. You will never be able to convince one group that soup is a meal, even if it contains all the ingredients from the refrigerator. Another group will consider it a meal if served with some other filler, like bread or a salad. Their thought process is it just doesn’t have enough density to make it a meal.
And then there is my thought process: even if it is only bone broth, it is a meal. It fills up your stomach, provides nutrients, and in a pinch, you could survive for quite a while on bone broth; it might not be enjoyable or meet the guidelines for a well-balanced meal, but it would sustain you.
Understandably, in our culture, where food is abundant and readily available, soups of any kind might not seem filling or appetizing. However, for much of human history, boiling a pot full of meat and vegetables over a fire would have been the primary way to eat most foods, especially in large quantities. And yet, as delicious as soups can be, they usually leave us feeling hungry a few hours later. This realization is the tragedy of Esau; he is swindled out of a birthright for a bowl of soup.  
Genesis 25:29-34 – “When Jacob had cooked a stew [one day,] Esau came in from the field and he was exhausted; 30 and Esau said to Jacob, “Please let me have a mouthful of that red stuff there, for I am exhausted.” Therefore he was called Edom by name. 31 But Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” 32 Esau said, “Look, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?” 33 And Jacob said, “First swear to me”; so he swore [an oath] to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew; and he ate and drank, and got up and went on his way. So Esau despised his birthright.”
Reading this passage, we should get immediate “Garden of Eden” imagery concerning humanity’s choices. However, the items are a little mixed up. There is a deceiver; however, instead of a snake, it is Jacob who presents a tempting offer. The choice is still an edible item, exchanging fruit for lentil soup; the question remains: will you consume it? The more significant question is, what will you trade the desires of the flesh for the future promises coming your way? The final tie-in to the Garden imagery is that “Life” becomes the driving factor. In Eden, Adam and Eve had full access to the Tree of Life; death did not concern them.
Now, Esau pleads for a bowl of soup to sustain his life, presenting the obvious question of which “life” is most important. Esau might not have had an afterlife in mind, but he was still securing prosperity for his lineage for generations upon generations. There are so many “Esaus” around us, people who only think about the temporary and never consider how their actions will affect others, including their children and grandchildren. Esau says it plainly, “I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?” 
Rightfully so, the writer of Hebrews maligns Esau for this blunder. Could he really have been at the point of exhaustion and starvation? What hunter doesn’t go into the field with enough provisions for the journey home? This rhetorical question is more than likely an exaggeration; however, I have heard this kind of excuse before. “What use is ___________ to me? It won’t make a difference in the long run.” Fill in the blank with whatever you want: honesty, integrity, purity, modesty, etc. They see no practicality for doing things God’s way. To them, a birthright or any future endeavor is trivial compared to instant gratification. 
Jacob certainly is a swindler in this instance. He is conniving and calculating because he knows the value of the birthright. Jacob is able to see that there is something more significant than the immediacy of hunger pangs. It’s hard to be Esau; in those moments, we have tunnel vision and can’t see the situation clearly. We think we know the right answer, but we should also look at the consequences and repercussions of our actions for others and our lives in the future. Otherwise, we will trade something eternal for a Bowl of Soup. 

In a Minute, but Not Yet…

Every summer, while in youth ministry, I would take a group of high schoolers to a summer camp at Abilene Christian University. It was a great week; there were many wonderful aspects of our trip: intentional study, worship, good food, and Christian community. There were also downsides: a nine-hour bus ride, Texas heat and humidity in July, and outdoor service projects, and despite this, every year, more teenagers would choose to go back. These kids, who notoriously have low attention spans and tolerance levels, would choose to be miserable for a few moments because they knew the benefits outweighed the discomforts.
The camp director was a man named David Moses (an excellent name for a church camp leader), and he had a phrase that I have adopted into my own life. His unique catchphrase was, “In a minute, but not yet…” He used it anytime he was about to give a necessary instruction. For example, he would say, “In a minute but not yet… we are going to be dismissed for service projects.” It allowed the group to know that there was something important they were going to do, but it wasn’t happening right then and there. A phrase like this is vital for teenagers who are easily distracted; it provided a preparatory phrase, followed by the idea that we would have to wait, coupled with the notion of what would be happening yet. It is incredibly effective, and I believe it is the best way to instruct a group of young people.  
Waiting is hard. Waiting is typically hard because we are only partially in control. You must rely on someone else to do something before you can fully act. Remember riding in a car and wondering, “Are we there yet?” You had to rely on someone else to drive and let you know when you were arriving. For a young kid, that is next to impossible, yet you must wait because there is no other option. Sure, you could get out and walk, but that doesn’t speed up the process; therefore, you must wait. 
Working with people requires patience. We want to force someone to speed up their processes. They may need a change of heart or make a decision, or there is a specific task they need to accomplish before everyone can move forward. And yet, with people, it is best to play the long game and wait for them. I have realized that the more you force someone, the more they resist. God knows this about us, too. God has always dealt with humanity in this regard. Does God want everyone to be saved and come to repentance? Absolutely. However, He grants us free will, and He exercises patience.  
2 Peter 3:8-9 NASB20 – “But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. 9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not willing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance.”
You might feel that a person or process is slow, but it will take as much time as God wants. Our thoughts should say, “In a minute, but not yet…”
Forcing someone, even if you feel it is the right thing, will destroy trust and peace. It is best to allow others to work things through on their timeline… and that can be exhausting. But that is the point of trust; it is reciprocal and can be eroded quickly by not believing the other person has the best intentions. Paul has these words of wisdom when participating in a group.
Ephesians 4:1-3 NASB20 – “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 being diligent to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Walk in humility, gentleness, patience, and love; these qualities preserve peace; keep in mind that the opposite of walking in this manner produces animosity and disunity within our relationships. Therefore, when you have the opportunity to work with people, it is best to be patient- and believe that they will God’s purpose for them will happen. “In a minute, but not yet…”
Finally, we are all awaiting a time that may seem like it has taken too long to arrive. We all anticipate a time when we will be fully perfected in the presence of our Savior. When there will be no death and no decay, it is easy to look at world events and think, “Certainly, the end is near.” However, we must never forget that God is patient, and therefore we should be too. 
1 Corinthians 15:50-53 NASB20 – “Now I say this, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold, I am telling you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal [must] put on immortality.”
Yes, there will be a change for us and all creation, which is why it still groans, waiting for a time when everything will be made new. But God is not slow concerning His promise. We know it will all change, but “In a minute, but not yet.”

Me on His Mind

Every autumn, something spectacular happens as the weather changes and the shifting sun in the northern hemisphere shortens our daylight hours. Trees stop producing chlorophyll as they prepare to go dormant during the colder winter months. On the surface, it is simply the process of biological systems marching on and charting their course. Yet there is an element that is lost using only biological processes… it is beautiful to behold. Few things are as

enchanting as the leaves of trees changing colors. People will travel vast distances to see the leaves change in the Fall; they say the trees in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine are amazing this time of year. And yet, with all of the hullabaloo surrounding the changing of the

trees, there is no consensus in the scientific community for why it is a process that happens, merely that it does.

According to and Harvard Forest, there are various reasons why the leaves might change colors. They list it as anything from Leaf Camouflage, Fruit Flag, Leaf Apparency, or Avoiding Camouflage. Still, in my estimation, each of these hypotheses fails to answer the

question of “Why?” Their theories contradict each other. Is it a warning to avoid that tree or to attract animals to their fruit? Take maple trees and their beautiful red leaves, for example: do they change colors to attract insects to their sugary sap (this seems counterproductive for a tree going dormant), or are they warning animals to avoid them (which would harm their ability to scatter seeds.) They state that these could be reasons, but there is no agreement or, in my opinion, a satisfactory justification for the process.

Perhaps I am being anthropocentric, focusing on this from a human perspective, but this process is delightful to the eyes. It seems God has created this unique and fantastic occurrence for us to enjoy. Leaves could turn brown and fall to the ground, yet they change to these gorgeous hues, and we are the delighted beneficiaries. What would the changing of the season be like if we were plunged into drab winter without this display of vibrancy each Fall? It highlights the march of time with one final blaze of glory before the cold, dreary months. And I love it!

When Paul and Barnabas were in Lystra, they shared this observance and discourse with the Hellenized region of modern-day Turkey, stating:

Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, preaching the gospel to you, to turn from these useless things to a living God, who MADE THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH AND THE SEA, AND EVERYTHING THAT IS IN THEM. 16 In past generations He permitted all the nations to go their ways; 17 yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness. (Acts 14:15-17 NASB20).

The crowd is trying to worship Barnabas and Paul for healing a man who was lame from birth. They both used the opportunity to set the narrative straight as they were merely instruments of God. Yet what they say is important for us to note. Essentially, they reason that God, who made everything, also made many of these things purely for our enjoyment. The rains and harvests are to bring us food and fill our hearts with gladness. It is a tenant of our beliefs that God created everything we see with humanity in mind. The thought that God created the entire world and then set humanity as the pinnacle of that creation. The Bible spells this out for us from the beginning. These principles ground us with the notion that God has orchestrated everything from creation to salvation with Me on His Mind.

I Trust You, Use Me

Yesterday in the lesson, we skimmed over Judges 6:36-40, it is the passage concerning Gideon making some odd requests of God. Here are some additional notes for you to consider regarding Gideon’s dewy conditions.

Judges 6:36-40 – “Then Gideon said to God, “If You are going to save Israel through me, as You have spoken, 37 behold, I am putting a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then I will know that You will save Israel through me, as You have spoken.” 38 And it was so. When he got up early the next morning and wrung out the fleece, he wrung the dew from the fleece, a bowl full of water. 39 Then Gideon said to God, “Do not let Your anger burn against me, so that I may speak only one [more] time; please let me put [You] to the test only one [more] time with the fleece: let it now be dry only on the fleece, and let there be dew on all the ground.” 40 And God did so that night; for it was dry only on the fleece, and dew was on all the ground.”
At first glance this appears to be a test regarding the faithfulness and ability of God. Yet throughout the text we have observed that Gideon is timid regarding his own character and qualities. God is aware of Gideon’s reluctance, and this is the best part…God indulges Gideon’s circumstantial requests. Even though Gideon’s faith is lacking, God still concedes and appeases. Isn’t this a marvelous thought, that when we are struggling, God continues to work with our inadequacies and shortcomings. I should be quick to point out that Gideon is not making God jump through proverbial hoops. That would be testing God, and yet we know that we should not test God.  “Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written: ‘YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.'”” – Matthew 4:7 NASB 2020.  
Jesus is referencing Deuteronomy 6:16.
Deuteronomy 6:13-16 “You shall fear only the LORD your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name. 14 “You shall not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who surround you, 15 for the LORD your God who is in the midst of you is a jealous God; so follow Him, or else the anger of the LORD your God will be kindled against you, and He will wipe you off the face of the earth. 16 “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested Him at Massah.”
What is the difference between Gideon and testing of God in the wilderness wanderings? The idea conveyed here is that they were wanting God to behave outside of His will for the moment. God has a definitive plan. He will accomplish that plan. In the case of Jesus, Satan is trying to expedite and foil that plan, same as the Israelites in the wilderness as God would have to wipe them out of existence. Gideon on the other hand is merely requesting that God demonstrate that he is the right person for the task at hand. “If You are going to save Israel through me, as You have spoken […]”
God often operates in this regard. He did this with Abraham as he bartered over Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:22-33). And with Moses as God was calling him in the desert (Exodus 4:1-8). Both instances could be perceived as testing God. Will you really destroy these cities? Will you really use me? Yet this is God demonstrating that His will and plan will succeed and He merely partnering with these individuals in the moment. We should also note that Abraham’s requests did not prevail, and Moses’ did.
God wanted to use Gideon and Moses, but these two individuals needed reassurance that this is, in fact, God’s plan. Abraham needed a different type of reassurance; God’s plan will be realized even if he didn’t fully understand the action.
We can be sure of two things based on these passages. First, we must realize that God has already partnered with and chosen you to be a part of this plan.
“And working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain– 2 for He says, “AT A FAVORABLE TIME I LISTENED TO YOU, AND ON A DAY OF SALVATION I HELPED YOU.” Behold, now is “A FAVORABLE TIME,” behold, now is “A DAY OF SALVATION”– 3 giving no reason for taking offense in anything, so that the ministry will not be discredited.” (2 Corinthians 6:1-3).
Secondly, we must be aware that God’s plan will be accomplished whether we participate or not. Therefore, what we should do is to ask God how He is going to use us in this plan. “But [Moses] said, “Please, Lord, now send the message by whomever You will.” (Exodus 4:13).  This can be a terrifying thought, and I know that I often feel like Gideon or Moses, but I know that I am part of the plan so my response should be to go wherever God needs me. In other words, I Trust You, Use me.  

“I AM with you”

I am nothing special. Truly, when I consider my life, I bring very little to the realm of existence. Out of 8 billion people, I am merely a blip on the global radar of significance. Many people are more intelligent, better looking, funnier, better-natured, and all-around more complete individuals. Psychologically, I am a mess at times. I can be too harsh or not firm enough. My words can build up and tear down. I am a mixture of failures and successes. I can get intertwined in my thoughts and imagine myself to be more significant or less sufficient than I am in actuality.
I have messed up more times than I care to count. I am broken. I am flawed. And yet, somehow, despite these egregious issues, I made it into professional ministry. I often feel like Moses, who came up with excuse after excuse as to why God should choose someone else.
“Choose Aaron; he is far more eloquent than I am.” “Pick anyone else to stand before Pharoah and request a release of Your people.” Moses would appeal. There must be someone more qualified or more worthy to stand in my place to represent God to the world.
And I can say without a doubt there is someone in the world who is better and more equipped than me.
And then, I am reminded of some key verses that provide me comfort and clarity.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 –
“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been bought for a price: therefore glorify God in your body.”
Romans 8:11 –
“The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.”
1 Corinthians 3:16 –
“Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?”
Colossians 1:27 –
“For God wanted them to know that the riches and glory of Christ are for you Gentiles, too. And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory.”
Time and time again, scripture reminds us that we are not living by and for ourselves. We have a value perceived and evaluated by the Creator. On top of this valuation, God wants so deep a relationship that He will send His very Spirit to live in me. This thought alone should make you feel worthwhile and enough.
Speaking of Moses, this is the comfort that God gave to him. Moses believes himself to be insignificant and unable and is not told to puff himself up or belittle those around him; God encourages him with this comfort.
Exodus 3:11-12
“But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?” 12 And He said, “Assuredly I will be with you, and this shall be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain.”
“Who am I?” And God replies, “I will be with you.” This is the remarkable thing about our lives: we often think that we are not enough, that we are incapable and unimportant … and yet God says, “I am with you.” God is so near to us that He has imparted a portion of Himself to dwell within our lives. And so, it grows from there because it signals that I’m not doing this alone. Paul reiterated this in a discussion regarding our actions lived out in faith as he states:
Galatians 2:20
“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”
We are not doing this alone. We recognize that it is through Christ living within us. It is no longer about my abilities, great or small, but about how faithful I will be to the things God has asked me to be and do. The very fact that God has chosen to live inside of me should help me to understand that everything is not about me anymore. If we are honest, if it were up to human ability, the Gospel would never have spread; the first obstacle or hindrance would have squashed it. Thankfully, enough people have recognized this throughout history to allow God to work in and through them.
We believe that we build our lives based on our abilities and talents, and God says that it is about faith and obedience. It is up to us to recognize and realize that God has stated time and time again, “I Am with you.”

Part of the Process

Last week, Theo had his tonsils and adenoids removed. It is very aggressive for a routine and outpatient procedure, at least from my amateur perspective. He is a trooper, and with the help of the hospital’s list of best practices, we kept his pain level to a minimum, at least for a few days.
But then, five days after surgery, he began to cry and complain a little more. As the medical personnel described the process, they compared the pain to a sore muscle. In the same way your muscles become more sore a few days after a strenuous workout, this is the body’s way of coping with new tissue forming. The pain that he feels is that muscle in his throat growing back, and that pain compounds and becomes more intense as time progresses; then, at some point, he’ll turn the corner, and he won’t notice that aching pain. 
This takes us to a conversation I had with him yesterday after he refused to eat anything for breakfast because it hurt. Obviously, in pain and aching in a way that is hard to comfort, I offered him some options for breakfast—ice cream, yogurt, Jell-o, finely ground oatmeal, hard-boiled eggs, etc. But nothing sounded palatable or soothing to him. He interpreted all of my offerings as attacks on his sore throat. A little cold food would actually help him to feel better if he can get past the thought of swallowing. 
To calm him down, I told him I knew it hurt and would take all the pain away if I could. In fact, as a loving dad, I would gladly suffer in his place if it were possible. I would absorb his pain so he wouldn’t have to endure it. But we all know that is not how healing works. If we are honest, we know that all healing has an element of pain. Yet, we want to live a pain-free life. And we will go to great lengths to keep from feeling any discomfort. But pain is necessary and should be desired. Take this passage from Ecclesiastes. 
Ecclesiastes 7:2-4 NLT – “Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties. After all, everyone dies–so the living should take this to heart. 3 Sorrow is better than laughter, for sadness has a refining influence on us. 4 A wise person thinks a lot about death, while a fool thinks only about having a good time.”
Sadness, pain, and discomfort have a way of refining us and making us better. As they say in the weightlifting world, “No Pain- No Gain.” If you want to get stronger, you must push yourself to a fatigue level that you had not previously endured. It is truth physiologically and spiritually. This doesn’t mean that we seek out pain but embrace it as part of life and allow it to have its refining characteristics on us. We all want to have growth and renewal without pain. And I genuinely believe if it were possible, God, as a perfect Father, would gladly take that pain for us. But He knows that it will make us stronger and perfect us. 
Speaking of refining, our ordeals prove what we are made of, what is in our hearts. As the proverb states, “The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, But the LORD tests hearts.” (Proverbs 17:3 NASB20). And later, as Peter spoke of our momentary struggles, they have a way of testing or proving our faith…and the end result is the continued salvation of our souls. 
1 Peter 1:6-9 – “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
Notice that this is regarding various trials; it is not limited to physical or spiritual. The things that cause us grief in this world all have a way of examining and assessing our hearts and faith. Pain, grief, and suffering are the reality; Theo had to have his tonsils out. They obstructed his breathing and disrupted his sleep, and when he would get sick, they became incredibly painful. And so yes, for a while, he will have to endure a level of suffering, and I wish I could take it away and ease it completely. But I know that the suffering he is enduring will be worth it. He will be better because he has endured. And when we are in these difficult trials, we hate to be reminded of this reality, but without the pain, there is no gain, and it is all a Part of the Process. 


Yesterday, in our marriage class, we discovered trust is the basis for any solid relationship. When you are young and infatuated, you will pursue that relationship with an excess of unearned trust. In other words, we interpret that budding relationship through “rose-colored glasses.” That infatuation will last for a while; however, we eventually begin to see our partners for who they are: flawed and human.

That is the interesting thing about relationships. Whether we recognize it or not, we are continually comparing the people in our lives to the standard of whether they will or have betrayed our trust in the past. Suppose someone has continuously let you down. You are more reluctant to believe they won’t betray your confidence in the future. When someone breaks our trust, it may seem insignificant; however, day after day, those minor disappointments add up, and we hesitate to allow others unfettered access to our hearts and lives.

Because we are human, we will fail; that is a given reality: we are not perfect. Therefore, we must augment our failures with repentance and make amends for our mistakes in our relationships. If I told Amanda I would take out the trash and then forget to do this, it would violate the trust she placed in me. To counteract this lapse in character, I need to apologize, and then the next time, I need to follow through on what I say. Although this may be a simple and straightforward example, it is one that we should be aware of. Even the little things add up over time, and we should constantly be willing to bolster the areas where we have fallen short.

This is far different than the relationship that we have with God. In human relationships, we know that it is two flawed people living in association with each other- we operate on the assumption that over time, both of us will fail, and we account for those errors. The Bible presents us with a God demonstrated as a Rock that cannot be moved, and while everything else will crumble around us, including our most intimate of relationships, He never will. Therefore, Jesus gives us these comforting words.

Matthew 7:24-29 – “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts on them, will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 “And the rain fell and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and [yet] it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. 26 “And everyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 “And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house, and it fell–and its collapse was great.” 28 When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; 29 for He was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.”

There is only One on which we can base our entire lives. Everything else will fail us at some point. People, Possessions, and Power are all untrustworthy. We might try to prop them up as if they have any potential to rescue or save us, but we ultimately know the reality. They will let us down, break our trust, and ruin our lives. However, God never will leave us, not forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:8, Hebrews 13:5). His word is a Rock that can sustain us even in the harshest storms. God never has failed, and He never will. And therefore, we can build our lives around Him and His Word. We can also say in confidence that we have God we can trust.

Power Move

We are in a season of “No” in the Condos household. Milo has progressed into his age of independence. He constantly asks for space from me and his mother, exclaiming, “Milo, do it” whenever he has the opportunity. He wants to do everything, and I mean everything, on his own. He wants to keep up with his older brothers and do everything they do. However, his independence has presented him with this unprecedented power, the power to control his realm of influence and his autonomy. He does not control much, but where he can exercise his influence, he asserts that power.
The way that he separates himself from his parental obligations is through a small yet formidable word. It is the word “No.” He claims his self-sufficiency and separation from Mom and Dad through this tiny word. Simultaneously, he does not have the understanding or reasoning to make his own decisions. This brings us to a conflict about the most common practices. Whether putting on shoes, going to the bathroom, or eating dinner, each request is met with a proud and defiant “No.” In actuality, what my two-year-old is saying is, “I’m Powerful,” and let me assert my superiority.
Managing this growth becomes a delicate balancing act for parents. You can’t strip your child of choices, even choices of their bodies, but you also can let them leave the house with a full bladder. Two-year-olds don’t grasp consequences and can’t know that what you are asking will benefit them in the future. In other words, he is thinking like a child. Therefore, when I ask Milo to accomplish something, and he refuses, I remind myself that he is only two and can make those decisions. One day, he will be able to, but not yet.
Three times in his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul informs his readers that they are thinking like children.
1 Corinthians 3:1-3 – “And I, brothers and sisters, could not speak to you as spiritual people, but only as fleshly, as to infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to consume it. But even now you are not yet able, 3 for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like ordinary people?”
1 Corinthians 13:11- “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.
1 Corinthians 14:20 – “Brothers and sisters, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature.”
If you look through each of these passages, Paul directly addresses carnal behaviors, creating divisions of Christ via Paul, Peter, and Apollos or even desiring external spiritual giftings. Paul says each of these things is asserting your position over others; it is a power move and childish. Can you imagine the conversations in the first century? You know I was baptized by Peter. Apollos is a more commanding speaker than Paul. Yet, Paul is the most reformed, so his way is best. Paul says this is the way children discuss things.
Like Milo, we must admit we don’t always know what is best. We might think our way is better, so we shout “I’m Powerful” to everyone we meet. Yet, we are not ordinary people; we are not infants who sink to fleshly or worldly measurements; we attain to spiritual matters. Paul’s underlying tone in these passages is for his audience to grow up. He then informs us how to grow up and shows us the better way.
1 Corinthians 3:21-23 – “So then, no one is to be boasting in people. For all things belong to you, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas [Peter], or the world or life or death, or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, 23 and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.”
1 Corinthians 13:12-13 – “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I also have been fully known. 13 But now faith, hope, and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
1 Corinthians 14:26 – “What is the outcome then, brothers and sisters? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. All things are to be done for edification.”
We often look for something that makes us more powerful and try to be victorious on our own accord and capacity—looking for our markers of superiority and righteousness. These only create division and are childish. Instead, we should work together for the edification and building up of each other through faith, hope, and love because we belong to Christ and God. It is by laying down our interests that is the real power move.


Carry Forever

Some moments are so intense we will forever have them etched into our memories; we will carry them around forever. It was my senior year.
I did not have a first-period class and was waking up in the morning. I grabbed a bowl of cereal and sat down in front of the TV, and then I would head off to school. The show I was watching was a newscast rather than my regularly scheduled program. The moment that was playing on repeat was two Boeing 767s slamming into the side of the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001.
At first, I thought it was a movie; only after repeated viewings did the gravity of the events sink into my consciousness. Seeing this changed me, and two months later, I signed up for the Delayed Enlistment Program (DEP) for the United States Air Force.
The memories seem so distant now and yet vivid at the same time. I cannot imagine what it would have been like to be an eyewitness to these events, how it must be forever engrained in their memories.
Now, we have closed-circuit television cameras and the ability to record virtually everything 24/7. Yet, for the majority of human history, we have relied on eyewitness testimony because when a significant event happens, someone who was there will have it etched into their minds forever. If you want to know what happened, you can ask them, and you trust their testimony, especially if additional witnesses can corroborate it.
Paul makes this point as he writes to the church in Corinth. He wants them to go and investigate more about the most significant event in history.
1 Corinthians 15:3-11
“I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. 4 He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. 5 He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. 6 After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7 Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. 9 For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church. 10 But whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out his special favor on me–and not without results. For I have worked harder than any of the other apostles; yet it was not I but God who was working through me by his grace. 11 So it makes no difference whether I preach or they preach, for we all preach the same message you have already believed.”
Paul knows how impossible these events seem. Therefore, he gives the church in Corinth a starting point to go and discover more on their own. Paul says, “Go talk to Peter, the apostles, 500 followers, James (probably his brother and writer of the book of James), and you can even ask me.” Why does Paul want them to ask? So that they can also understand the extraordinary events that took place. Paul could have said, “Trust me, I am reliable.” Instead, he points out that he would be the last person to validate a claim like this. He had every motivation to squash the concept of a resurrected Christ, but he could not unsee the most miraculous event in history.
A moment on the road to Damascus was forever etched into his memory. Paul also knew that because of his acknowledgment and ultimate submission to Christ, God’s grace covered him and produced real and tangible results; because of what Paul saw, he was a changed man. Witnessing this event changed his life’s path forever.
It is easy for us to dismiss 2000-year-old claims. The reality is that for Paul, the apostles, and 500 witnesses, these were life-changing moments, and their testimonies bolster our faith even today. They could not betray their eyes, and many suffered cruel deaths to proudly stand by what they had witnessed. And yet, this legacy does not end with them.
Although I may not have had a vision on the road to Damascus, I have encountered the resurrected Christ, and I am forever changed. Every time I open the Word, the mind of God is revealed to me, and I am humbled in His presence. Even though I may not have seen his death, burial, and resurrection with my own eyes, I can proudly say, “this I know with all my heart, his wounds have paid my ransom.”
We can bear the testimony and witness of the change in our lives and the impact on the world around us- and these are the moments we will carry forever.

Passing Through

Passing Through

Throughout my life, I have made a habit out of a particular practice that some would label as extreme, and others may think it is not very interesting. However, it is a custom I have come to appreciate and pass on to my kids. Several times in my childhood, my family would load up in a car and start on a long road trip. We would visit National Parks or scenic sights, and I always enjoyed the thrill of seeing something new. But one of the best experiences that sticks with me to this day is that no matter where we were, every Sunday, we would try to find a local church nearby and attend their worship. I attribute this ordinary custom with a more profound relevance than I truly appreciated at the time. Now that I am older, I see many benefits to keeping this tradition alive. You are cementing some Biblical truths by attending a local church while traveling.

  • The church is global-
    1. “This same Good News that came to you is going out all over the world. It is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives, just as it changed your lives from the day you first heard and understood the truth about God’s wonderful grace.” – (Colossians 1:6 NLT).
      1. Many times, we may think we are the only ones, the last bastion of hope… however, the Gospel changes lives and reaches throughout the world.
  • Each church is different.
    1. Each church, although a part of the whole, is distinct and different.
      1. “… Write in a book everything you see, and send it to the seven churches in the cities of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.” – Revelation 1:11
  • Each church dealt with its distinct and separate issues and problems, although connected through Christ.
    1. We might have different practices, yet Christ unites us, and if there are differences, this creates an opportunity for learning and diving deeper into scripture.
  • The church is built on Love.
    1. “I want you to know how much I have agonized for you and for the church at Laodicea, and for many other believers who have never met me personally. 2 I want them to be encouraged and knit together by strong ties of love. I want them to have complete confidence that they understand God’s mysterious plan, which is Christ himself.” – Colossians 2:1-2
    2. Although there are people I might have never met, I can still love them because they are a part of God’s plan.
      1. “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” – 1 John 4:20
  • The church is paramount-
    1. We can either see the church as significant or trivial. Our actions are an outgrowth of our beliefs. Regardless of what you say, you believe your life will show the fruit of your heart.
      1. “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” – (Matthew 16:18)
      2. “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” – Ephesians 3:8-10
    2. Do we believe that the church is the embodiment of the manifold wisdom of God?

There are numerous other reasons to visit other congregations while traveling; however, what I have listed are great reasons to put this into practice. We haven’t even discussed how this builds up the other congregations and encourages them to keep pressing on toward the upward call. These are the reasons why I go. It also solidifies these thoughts in my heart and hopefully plants a seed for my family as we walk together toward a new heaven and earth. Because no matter how you want to put it, we are all just passing through.


For anyone in our Sunday morning Bible Class, we engaged in a beautiful discussion centering around Deuteronomy 6:4-9. So many people poured their hearts out in relation to passing on their faith to future generations. As a father, I reflect on this train of thought often, it is a natural goal as we want to create a legacy of our faith, and we also want to know that our offspring are destined for an eternal home.

Many people will ask a child what they want to be when they grow up, a doctor, firefighter, musician, artist, or engineer, and parents wish them some earthly success (i.e., fulfillment) for their child. Other parents want their children to grow up to be kind and compassionate, to be “good” people to themselves and those around them. But for me, my biggest desire is that my kids grow up to love God with their entire being. Because I know that if my children grow up to

“… seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33).

Part of them pursuing this end is for me to pass on a vibrant and lived-out faith. I do not want my kids to see me as a hypocrite, preaching one thing on Sunday mornings and living oppositely Monday through Saturday. This is precisely what Deuteronomy 6:4-9 points out.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 – “Hear, Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! 5 “And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. 7 “And you shall repeat them diligently to your sons and speak of them when you sit in your house, when you walk on the road, when you lie down, and when you get up. 8 “You shall also tie them as a sign to your hand, and they shall be as frontlets on your forehead. 9 “You shall also write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

There is a word used in this passage that is a Hebrew idiom or phrase that carries a more significant meaning than we might immediately grasp. This phrase translates as “you shall repeat them diligently,” but you could also render it as “repeat them again and again,” the gist is that it is a repetitive process. Yet the word coveys a more intensive meaning.
The Hebrew word is שָׁנַן shânan, [shaw-nan’]– to point (transitive or intransitive); intensively, to pierce; figuratively, to repeat:—pierce, sharp(-en), teach diligently, whet. On one level, by repetitiously using God’s word, we are piercing the heart of our children. And no wonder why the writer of Hebrews states,

“For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” (Hebrews 4:12).

God’s word has the unique ability to touch the deepest part of our existence.
There is still a more profound meaning; part of the word שָׁנַן shânan means to whet or sharpen- as in the process of using a whetstone to sharpen a knife blade. To hone a knife means to remove the imperfections of your edge and make it straighter and sharper; you are molding your knife to be its best version of itself (metaphorically speaking). We all know that a dull knife is dangerous, and if we want to bless the world, we need our children to be sharp and true, minimizing the damage done by a harsh and cruel world.

Because as the pressures of the world so easily wear us down, there is only one thing that will make them effective and resilient- that is by seeking God through His Word and Spirit. Therefore, through the repetitive and intentional use of God’s word in my life and home, I am shaping and sharpening my children for when they might need to draw deeply from the spring of Life. For those without children or past that point in life, how are you being molded or sharpened? How are you allowing God to hone you to where He wants you to be? Are you dulling, or are you becoming sharper? But I will do everything in my power to make those who come alongside me sharper.

Promised Land

While we were in San Diego, we had the pleasure of visiting the Maritime Museum. Out of all the places we visited, it was the most intriguing for history lovers, and I fall into that category. There was a submarine, a steam ferry, recreated British frigate sailing ship, and many more. The engineering and ingenuity of these vessels were a sight to behold; to imagine that sea vessels were the prevailing transportation method for millennia boggles the mind. And although it is fun to imagine what life aboard these ships would have been like, I don’t think I would have enjoyed living on them for long.

One of the ships, the Star of India, the oldest surviving sailing ship, has a story as impressive as its weathered timbers. It embarked from the Isle of Man in the British Isles in 1867, and its purpose was to haul cargo from England to India and back. However, the most astonishing part is that after its life as a cargo ship, it became commissioned as a transport vessel for people. The ship’s new route was from England to New Zealand via the Suez Canal in Egypt, each trip taking 100 days or more to complete. Entire families would load up and travel to New Zealand; they would sell all their belongings, buy enough supplies to last the trips, and outfit their tiny cabins within the cargo hold in hopes of making it to a new land rife with opportunities—an incredibly tough journey made by resilient and robust people.

Journeys like this take a certain level of determination, endurance, and strong dispositions to complete it. These aren’t the voyages of fanciful dreamers, happy-go-lucky day-trippers, and laissez-faire tourists. They only partly knew what they were getting into, and they met that challenge with resolve and persistence. These voyages remind me of another traveler who started migrating toward an unknown location because he was told of a future promise.

Hebrews 11:8-10, 14-16 NASB20 – “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he left, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he lived as a stranger in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; 10 for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. … 14 For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. 15 And indeed if they had been thinking of that country which they left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.”

I reflect on this passage often. Abraham is our spiritual archetype; God promises him a glorious place he has never been to; this thought alone is an exercise in faith and belief. Yet because he trusts in God, he is willing to leave all that he has known and travel there. Abraham’s legacy is that he will gain an inheritance that God provides. Abraham intentionally left his earthly family, giving up whatever land or birthright he would have had to receive an inheritance from God.

The author of Hebrews leaves his readers and us with the rhetorical question, “Would you live like a stranger now so that you can enjoy God’s inheritance later?” or “Are you willing to risk everything you have now for the promise of God?” These questions link with our desire to pursue God. In our lives, we want to have it all; we want to have our cake and eat it too. The lesson from Abraham is that you must be willing to leave what you know for what God will give you. And when you live like this, God is proud to be called your God because He knows your heart is truly His.

We should be inspired as we consider individuals willing to brave the unknown: Marco Polo, Lewis and Clark, homesteaders on the Oregon Trail, and the passengers on the Star of India. To leave everything, traveling with nothing but the hope of a future, is moving and motivating. Let’s be like those intrepid travelers, willing to leave it all behind for a Promised Land.

A Second Life

August has some significant milestones for me. Two dates will be etched in my memory forever. The first is August 6, 2002, and the second is August 1, 2013. Both are life-altering events.
On August 6, I hopped on a Greyhound bus from Grand Junction, CO, to catch an airplane to San Antonio, TX. It was the day I began basic training and immediately changed the way I operated in the world. The military calls it INDOC (indoctrination), and they call it that for a reason, it is to change the way you behave, believe, and represent yourself to the world. They want to break you down to shape you into who they want you to be.

I remember how nervous I felt as the plane landed at the San Antonio airport, collecting my carry-on bag and following the signs to the receiving area. Young adults were racing through the airport, excited to start their new life, whooping and hollering as they went. I remember practically running corridors trying to keep up with the rest of the recruits. As I rounded the corner, there, tucked into a corner of the airport, was the designated collection point.

As we approached, the instructors had a place to sign in; peering at the paper, you located your name and signed in, letting them know you were there. And they asked you to take your seat… that is when everything changed. Your signature magically transformed each person into a trainee, stripping you of any level of anonymity or individuality- you belonged to Uncle Sam. The military personnel used their displays of intimidation, applying social pressures and barking orders, and you knew your enlistment became real.

August 1, 2013, is a far different memory in my mind; almost 11 years after my enlistment, I made another transition. I stepped away from military/government life to serve a different population. Through the promptings of many people in my life and God’s hand in my life, I transitioned to ministry. My first taste of ministry was loading up 20 teenagers and heading to Ute Lake, near Logan, NM. That weekend changed my life more than the military had previously done. To sit and play with these kids while we enjoyed the community of Christ was unparalleled compared to anything I had done before.

I share these two stories because they both affected me. One experience changed me through shouting and breaking me down mentally. The other built me up to show me my true potential. This is the difference between what the world offers and what life in the spirit is like. I am reminded of this passage from Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth.
1 Corinthians 15:45-49 “So also it is written: “The first MAN, Adam, BECAME A LIVING PERSON.” The last Adam was a life-giving spirit. 46 However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. 47 The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second Man is from heaven. 48 As is the earthy one, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly One, so also are those who are heavenly. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly.”
There is this carnality of the military. Not the idea of sensuality but appealing to the pure physicality of life. The yelling, the pursuit of physical prowess, ensuring everything is externally perfect. You are alive, but you aren’t really living; no one wants to stay in basic training forever; you are bound to the service and world of the military. Yet, there is life and freedom in Christ, the second Adam. We are no longer attached to just the world’s physical nature but to a much grander reality, a cosmic scale.

So many people are stuck, living only in the nature of the first Adam. They are only sympathetic to the physical side of life. And they wonder why this is a life that conforms to only one end. You may pursue the highest and noblest causes but there is no benefit to that pursuit. There is only one end to this physical life… DEATH. God, through Paul, is informing us of something that is beyond this life of death, there is an avenue of life, and that is found only in Jesus. And when you have that life, you have an abundant life, more than you can imagine. It fills you up and sustains you. It is a well that never runs dry. We have all lived and experienced the earthy-fleshy side of existence- I urge you to strive for the life change of a Second Life.

P.S. I loved my service in the military, but it pales in comparison to a life devoted to Christ. I know not everyone is blessed enough to enjoy vocational ministry. But if you aren’t serving the Kingdom of God in some way, you are missing out, on something that is beyond your wildest imagination. Pursue that which is greater, and higher, a nobler…but one that leads to life everlasting.

Missing Out

My family and I had a tremendous vacation this month. I am so thankful that I am part of a church family with an army of people available to keep its weekly functions going even when I am gone. Thank you to Donny, Cade, Andrew, and the Eldership for allowing us the opportunity to leave.

Everyone is different, especially when it comes to vacations. Some like to rest and relax. For them, a vacation is there to afford you copious amounts of downtime. Others are “travelers” because they want to experience a different atmosphere and region of the world, taking in the sights and sounds of somewhere they only visit. I feel as though I land in both camps, I like to relax, but I also want to experience new things while I am out and about.

While in southern California, we were also vacationing with our longtime friends, the Darnells, Matt, Beth, and their three children. One of the neat experiences we were able to be a part of was going to SeaWorld. Before going, I had conjured up some visions of a large aquarium with the possibility of an interactive show. I was unsure what to expect, but I know my kids love animals, and this would be a neat way to see animals that are often out of our view.

As we approached the park, the boys immediately noticed some rollercoasters. Theo absolutely loves a good rollercoaster unless it makes him sit alone; he likes the comfort of his mom or dad next to him. Well, this changes our approach. Now we will see sea animals and go on a few rides. As we walked in the front gate, we started noticing signs attached to the lines for the rides that said $6 unless you have a special annual park pass. This observation was devastating because although I am not cheap, I can’t imagine paying $6 per person per ride; for my family of 5, that’s $30 every time we get on a ride! Amanda and I decided to sponsor one ride per child, but they must really want to go on that ride.
The temperature rose as the day wore on, and the kids started to complain. They were hot, tired, and cranky. And no one wanted to pay for the rollercoasters except for me, Matt, and Theo. The wives agreed it was best to take the younger kids back to our rental house, and we would do one ride and then join them. As we approached the ride, we asked how long the wait was and where we would pay our $6. They told us about 15 minutes, and unless we wanted to skip to the front of the line, all rides were included in admission. What?! Of course, they included the rides in the price of admission; it is standard practice nowadays. We felt dumb and ashamed of our ignorance. Our families missed out on one of the best parts of a theme park because we assumed the worst and did not ask any questions. What would have changed if we asked? How would the day have been transformed if we had known what awaited us? Needless to say, Theo got more than one ride, and we stayed a little longer because the rides were free; you only had to get in line.

Many Christians assume they know what is included in the life of following Christ. They think they know what a life devoted to Jesus is all about, but they often miss out on some significant benefits. I can’t tell you how many Christians feel when they assume all responsibility for their salvation. Even though they know that Jesus is their Savior, they think they are responsible for their entrance into Heaven.

It is like going to a theme park and not fully realizing the joy and the freedom of a rollercoaster. The wind in your hair, the exhilaration of zero gravity. God has made some astounding promises in scripture, and we should realize the full benefits without ignoring what He has done for us. Reflect on these verses and ask yourself if you rest in these promises or feel you are still responsible for your salvation. As the old song says, Jesus paid it all, and the entrance fee is there. Do you realize that, or do you feel like you should pay $6 to enjoy the ride? My prayer is that you don’t feel like you are Missing Out.

1 Peter 1:18-19 – “For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. 19 It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God.”
John 10:29-30 – “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 “I and the Father are one.”
Romans 8:31, 38-39 NASB20 – “31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? … 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Ephesians 3:20 – “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us,”
2 Timothy 4:18 – “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
Jude 1:24-25 – “Now to Him who is able to protect you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory, blameless with great joy, 25 to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority before all time and now and forever. Amen.”


Last week Amanda and I celebrated nine years of marriage. For some of you, this is a drop in the bucket of life. Many of you have commemorated this accomplishment five times over! Your longevity encourages me that it can be done.
However, as you all know, marriage takes effort. Many will try to downplay the effort that marriage takes, they will look at it through rose-tinted glasses, yet some days (read most days), it is downright hard. Marriage is complex as two independent people live life together. I know not everyone has had a good marriage or even been married; however, marriage is a biblical practice with biblical principles.

You can think of this from human relations and our relationship with Christ as His Bride. For this reason, it is one area in our lives that Satan desires to destroy and dismantle. So for those of you committed to another soul in holy matrimony, here are some things I have learned during my seasons of marital bliss.

Marriage is like an ocean; each relationship has an ebb and flow. All days are not the same. Some days, you will have more to give, and others, you will need an extra dose of grace. Some days I am extremely needy; others, I am positively selfless. We all have these tidal motions, and there needs to be ebb and flow. If you feel as though you are either giving or taking constantly without reprieve in your relationships, then you need to have a conversation with your loved one. There should be reciprocity within the union. Because in a relationship, if there is no give and take, back and forth, then that isn’t a marriage that is a dictatorship.

“And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35).

Marriage cannot be about simply going through the motions. We all know when someone is fake or counterfeit. In any relationship, there must be active participants. One aspect that will kill any relationship is when one partner is not authentic and genuine with their spouse. As Paul writes to the church in Corinth–

“[love] rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6).

You cannot fake your way through marriage, it is the most intimate relationship, and your partner requires and demands authenticity and truth in every aspect. Earlier in that chapter, Paul explains that actions without love are useless as he states,

“If I speak with the tongues of mankind and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 And if I give away all my possessions to charity, and if I surrender my body so that I may glory, but do not have love, it does me no good.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

You cannot separate actions from intentions, which is true in our relationship with Christ and each other. Too often, when I talk to struggling couples, one of the partners is “just going through the motions,” which is detrimental to everyone involved. If you are not being genuine, reignite the love you had at first. Otherwise, you are torturing the one person you promised to love unconditionally.
It would be best to remember that two strong-willed, independent people will constantly pull in different directions. They will not always be opposites, but they will be different. Even a few degrees of differentiation will produce tension. Often we are just interpreting the same problem differently. If you have ever assembled furniture with someone, you will see that there is more than one way to tackle any endeavor. What is the solution when these tensions arise? Remind yourself of why you are together in the first place.

Recall how wayward Israel was toward God, yet what causes God to remain faithful and forgiving? He remembers,

“Go and shout this message to Jerusalem. This is what the LORD says: “I remember how eager you were to please me as a young bride long ago, how you loved me and followed me even through the barren wilderness.” (Jeremiah 2:2).

For all of us in the thick of marriage, we must remember the reasons we chose each other in the first place. There was something that drew you together. Reflect and recall those things, especially in the hard times, especially when you are giving more than receiving. It is easy to forget the “why” when you are caught up in the “how” and “what.” Keep reminding yourself what brought you into this committed relationship in the first place.
Finally, because marriage is so hard, there is something that everyone needs to remember, and that comes in the form of wisdom from the wise King Solomon to his son. All of the things that can pull us from our spouses, we should be careful to celebrate togetherness. Solomon tells us,

“Let your wife be a fountain of blessing for you. Rejoice in the wife of your youth.” (Proverbs 5:18).

Rejoice in your spouse! Life will take everything you have, and having another person to share life makes it tolerable. If you are not celebrating your marriage, you miss out on one of life’s few comforts.

“Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone?” (Ecclesiastes 4:11).

A couple choosing to stay together is work. However, it is beneficial and advantageous if the commitment to another is practiced and honored. As described in this verse, the world is cold and dark… rejoice that someone has your back and keeps you warm. These are all things that can and should be celebrated.


Sorry often doesn’t mean a lot. When we are kids, our parents tell us to say “sorry” if we offend someone. Giving a courteous “sorry” is appreciated if you accidentally bump into someone. You could even justify the incidental contact, “Sorry, I didn’t see you there.” However, sometimes, a simple “sorry” will not help. Another driver will expect an apology if you do something especially egregious, like getting into a fender-bender in a parking lot. Although merely apologizing will not pay for the damage to a car. When conflict with a relationship arises, an admission of guilt is the first step to mending the relationship; however, most people want to see a behavioral change.

Our boys are learning this lesson right now. You can’t tackle your brother and then expect a quick “sorry” to make everything better. Your sibling wants justice, typically from mom and dad, and also that you promise not to harm them again. Perhaps you have been there, and someone else’s actions have hurt you; there is typically no quick fix. We want to see a change of heart and a change of behavior.

We have been looking at the Name of God and focusing on His character. God’s character is complex in that one aspect is that He is compassionate and merciful, but He is also just, punishing wrongdoing. Look at God’s description of Himself from Moses’ encounter with Him.

Exodus 34:6-7 – “Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in faithfulness and truth; 7 who keeps faithfulness for thousands, who forgives wrongdoing, violation of His Law, and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, inflicting the punishment of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”

On one side, He is faithful to thousands; on the other, he will punish generations for the guilty. At first glance, this seems like a contradiction. We should note there remains a distinction between thousands and even punishing up to the fourth generation, which is only a fraction of that initial number. Therefore, even in God’s justice, He makes a provision for grace and mercy. He could be unilateral in that faithfulness and punishment will be equal, affecting thousands.

Although God does not stop there, what God truly wants is not a quick condemnation and eternal separation. God desires us to recognize our failings and adjust our hearts and actions.

Deuteronomy 4:29-31 – “But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul. 30 “When you are in distress, and all these things happen to you, in the latter days, you will return to the LORD your God and listen to His voice. 31 “For the LORD your God is a compassionate God; He will not abandon you nor destroy you, nor forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them.”

We can appreciate this reality. God wants us to say that we are sorry and asks us to do three main actions. First, we are to seek Him with all our hearts and soul. We are to pursue Him. Our pursuit of Him cannot be a half-hearted endeavor; we reciprocate God’s continual faithfulness to us, but this can’t be a reluctant or uncommitted approach; we must be sincere. Next, we are to return; in other words, repentance, aligning our actions with God’s direction. It is changing your behavior for the betterment of everyone involved. It follows Jesus’ first message,

“From that time, Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 4:17).

Finally, we must continually listen to His voice; this encapsulates the other aspects and denotes a constant action. We are not saying “sorry” and moving on; we are listening to God’s instructions for our future direction. Sometimes we say “Sorry” in an attempt to bury our wrongs and avoid true change; God asks His followers to pursue, return, and listen to Him.

If you have ever needed to make amends, this is how to do it. You apologize, then you pursue that person to make it right, next change your behavior, then ask them what you can do to make it better in the future.

These are the desires of humans; these are the desires of God. We don’t want quick confessions; we want others not to violate us again; we want a change of heart and behavior. God wants us to seek, change, and listen, conforming to His ways for our good. So, as we live in relation to God, let’s stop just only saying, “Sorry.”


First Things First

Remember, in school, when you begin to start with more complex mathematical equations, most of us are taught the order of operations. And a simple way to remember that order is the acronym PEMDAS; each letter in PEMDAS stands for a mathematical function- Parenthesis, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, and Subtraction. When I first learned this helpful device, I was instructed that it was PEDMAS, which switches equations’ division and multiplication aspects. And depending on which function you do first will make a difference when solving for an answer.

Because of the disparity, I had to determine if what I had been told my whole life was wrong. I discovered that neither is 100% correct. Instead of using an acronym, I needed to use the correct terminology, Order of Operations. That is because the order for multiplying/dividing and adding/subtracting is reversible. Within mathematics, the problem may call you to divide before multiplying or subtracting before adding. It all depends on the expressions, and those function in order from left to right. And so, in reality,

the Order of Operations is four steps:

·     Parentheses

·     Exponents

·     Multiply/Divide

·     Add/Subtract


Since we read expressions from left to right, students MUST do the operation that appears first. That is enough of a math lesson for us. What are the spiritual implications? As humans trying to do the right thing, life presents some pretty complex situations. I had often wished I had an order of operations available when I tried to solve some of my tricky situations. But then I realized that Jesus did give me a solution to my problems, using the acronym SFHKAR. Now doesn’t roll off the tongue like PEMDAS, but it is far more effective. 

Matthew 6:31-34 – “Do not worry then, saying, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear for clothing?’ 32 “For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided to you. 34 “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

We get bogged down with the cares and worries of the world. These needs are common to humanity; we worry about what we eat, drink, and wear. And yes, these are important, and I am not advocating ignoring what we need to survive. God knows us, and He knows that we need these things. However, this passage builds upon the understanding that in life, there is an “order of operations.” There are things we should desire to pursue over other things. When we do this, our problems will become easier to solve and allow us to see the solution more quickly; and if there is no solution, we can find rest, realizing that God’s Kingdom has prevailed. 

Yet, many times, when things are spiraling out of control, or we feel our problems are too complicated, we toss our order of operations out of the window. When we balance a “full plate,” pursuing God’s Kingdom and Righteousness often suffers. When we can’t imagine fitting anything else into our lives, God and His Reign are the parts that we neglect and ignore. 

What would happen if we sat down and analyzed everything from a Kingdom perspective while facing a complicated equation? What would change about our lives if the things we sought were not temporary but those with eternal consequences? Pursuing God’s Kingdom and righteousness means I would pray more than I fretted. It means I have a clearer perspective of the picture and the future. I know that when I remove God’s purposes from the equation, it becomes only about me and what I can do… and in my experience, that is very little. I think things would go much better if we all… Seek First His Kingdom and Righteousness and if we all put His things first. 



My wife and I broke tradition. We didn’t mean any harm by it. I suppose we are just a little rebellious. My first name is Thomas, my dad’s first name is Thomas, my grandfather’s first name is Thomas. How cool would it have been to have the same name for four generations? But we didn’t do that. Thomas has always been a good name, I have gone by Tommy or Tom, and when I was in trouble, sometimes my mom would call me by my given name. But when we had our first son, we chose to call him something different. We didn’t even care about the meaning of the name; we just wanted something that sounded good and was a little unique… although not too unusual.

In the Bible, names have special significance; they represent an identity and describe their character. Whether we realize it or not, it gives us a backstory on an individual as we read their narrative. One of the most well-known examples of this is in the life of Jacob.

His life starts with a negative and almost derogatory name. Jacob means to be a “supplanter” or literally a “heel holder,” with the connotation of holding someone back. Imagine running a race, and as you are about to lose, you grab their heel to stop them from running or winning. His name embodies the narrative of Jacob; he is about to lose, and he finds a way to come out ahead. Heel grabbing is also the story of humanity; we use dirty tactics to get ahead. We lie, steal, and cheat to become successful.

Later on, we read of Jacob’s name changing. In a bizarre account, we have Jacob coming face to face with a power stronger than him but one that is also willing to tussle with him. It is a unique encounter of give and take that makes us aware of how quickly it could have ended from the beginning.

Genesis 32:24-30 – “Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was dislocated while he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have contended with God and with men, and have prevailed.” 29 And Jacob asked him and said, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And he blessed him there. 30 So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared.”

The situation is mysterious and intriguing; however, what we can focus on today is changing the name. Jacob is a “cheater,” which also becomes apparent in this account. He is defeated but, true to his name’s sake, will not let go of the heel. Because of his tenacity, the mysterious figure bestows on Jacob a new name that seems positive and appropriate for the people that will spring up from his name. However, it also has a negative overtone. Jacob’s new name is Israel, meaning to wrestle, contend, or struggle with or alongside God. In one sense, it is as though Jacob is victorious, but it signifies that this future population will be locked in a wrestling match with God.

Isn’t this the story of humanity? We are unwilling to submit to God, so we are locked in a battle of supremacy. If we are honest with ourselves, we realize that we cannot win but that God allows us to contend with Him. God could win easily at any moment, but He knows we grow from the challenge and trials we face. The nation of Israel never learns this lesson; they continually battle God for who is in charge. Sometimes they follow Him, but most of the time, they do whatever is right in their own eyes. We are constantly wrestling with God.

Yet, in his faithfulness to His people, God promises not to let their name remain a reminder of their struggle with/or against Him. Their name will change, and they will be a part of the process. 

Isaiah 62:1-4 – “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, And for Jerusalem’s sake I will not keep quiet, Until her righteousness goes forth like brightness, And her salvation like a torch that is burning. 2 The nations will see your righteousness, And all kings your glory; And you will be called by a new name Which the mouth of the LORD will designate. 3 You will also be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, And a royal headband in the hand of your God. 4 It will no longer be said to you, “Forsaken,” Nor to your land will it any longer be said, “Desolate”; But you will be called, “My delight is in her,” And your land, “Married”; For the LORD delights in you, And to Him your land will be married.”


This profoundly symbolic text alludes to when God transforms His people; he will not change their names through force. He does not choose arbitrary names because it sounds good. He knows there will come a time when the people who want to follow God will choose to do so. Isaiah’s analogy is that of a married woman who decides to take her betrothed’s name, and so will those who choose to follow God. The names bestowed upon the followers of God are because they willingly choose to change their name, not out of obligation or coercion but out of loyalty and love.