Sharper

 
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.”
 


Celebrated!

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

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. 

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Names

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.

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Needs of the Many

 
The modern Western culture that we live in is bizarre. In fact, throughout human history, it is an anomaly. In our culture, we tend to promote our individualized self above the rest of the group. Besides our own, most cultures tend to center around the entire group and not the individual. Even in futuristic outer space, Spock would say logic dictates that “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few (or the one).” This statement is difficult for us in an individualist culture to reconcile. We believe our pursuits, goals, and dreams our weight anyone else’s goals, pursuits, or dreams.

As engrained as this is in our way of life, let me remind you that our beliefs are rooted in a near-eastern collectivist culture. It is a culture where ideas like hospitality and generosity are foundational paradigms everyone should pursue. Through the prophet Isaiah we are told of an individual that suffered so that many could be justified. One would sacrifice himself so that “the many” would benefit.

Isaiah 53:10-12
“But the LORD desired to crush Him, causing Him grief; If He renders Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. 11 As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, For He will bear their wrongdoings. 12 Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the plunder with the strong, Because He poured out His life unto death, and was counted with wrongdoers; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the wrongdoers.”

In any context, the Suffering Servant is an example of selflessness and sacrifice. It is an ideal to rally around and pursue. Whether you are in a culture that prizes the group or the individual, the notion that someone would endure pain and grief for others is nothing short of extraordinary. The human condition is to survive, and to choose the opposite willingly is exceptional.

Sadly, we have become numb to this type of language. We are so accustomed to the sacrifice of Christ that we interpret him as the exception and not the rule. We often analyze this concept as this was Jesus’ purpose; he died for me. Once again, this emphasizes “me” over “we” and frames our bias as one of an individualized culture. Because of this bias, our churches and fellowship have suffered. We perceive our gatherings as, “What will I gain from this experience?” “How will this church service build me up?” However, this is not the culture of God’s people. The culture that the Bible promotes is that because Jesus willingly went to the cross, so should we. Look at this passage from Paul as he writes to the church in Rome, epitomizing the look and pursuit of the body of Christ.

Romans 12:4-18
“For just as we have many parts in one body and all the body’s parts do not have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually parts of one another. 6 However, since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to use them properly: if prophecy, in proportion to one’s faith; 7 if service, in the act of serving; or the one who teaches, in the act of teaching; 8 or the one who exhorts, in the work of exhortation; the one who gives, with generosity; the one who is in leadership, with diligence; the one who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. 9 Love must be free of hypocrisy. Detest what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor, 11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, 13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. 17 Never repay evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all people. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all people.”

Read this passage several times and use any translation or version that suits you. Because this is what the body of Christ looks like. The depiction in Romans 12 looks like a group of people pursuing the church’s betterment. It looks like self-sacrifice. It looks like putting the needs of the “one” below the needs of “the many.”
Practically speaking, the mentality would be that as we live our lives, we continually think about who we can serve today. When we gather, our thought process should be, “Who can I encourage or edify today?” “How can I sacrifice for others this morning?” To truly become like Jesus, we must be willing to give up our own individualistic desires so that we can benefit the collective whole. A mentality of service echoes the words of Jesus,
“Greater love has no one than this, that a person will lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
On a Sunday morning, so many people sneak in and out, and I wonder how they can sacrifice for others when they don’t even talk to anyone. How are they living out Romans 12 when they barely know anyone else?
I know it is counter-cultural to live in harmony with a group; however, that is our calling. If you are not living for others, you are living for yourself, and you are concerned only for the needs of the one and not the needs of the many.
 


Pieces

 
Yesterday, I opened with an analogy that we are like puzzle pieces in the bigger picture. It is one of the best conceptual representations of the church. We fit together in a way that takes our weaknesses and turns them into strengths. It takes the areas I need to mature in and helps me address them by leaning on others and shaping me into a more complete picture of Christ. Yet, puzzles are disposable. If I have a few missing pieces, I’ll throw away the cheap cardboard picture and pick a new one because a puzzle and its pieces are disposable. We, however, are not disposable; we are not cheap.

As great a picture as a puzzle is, it is not the best representation of the church. The best expression of the church is found in the words of Paul. He describes us as a body.

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-14 ESV)

The human body is a much stronger metaphor. If we are missing a piece of our body, it hurts. We feel it. It is noticeable. Our hands, fingers, and eyes do not grow back. When a part of the body is gone… a hole is present, and it is obvious. As we note further in the passage, hands, ears, and eyes are not interchangeable. They all have distinguishing roles and functions within the body. Functional uniqueness tells us something important about our lives together: you are vital and necessary. The body needs you. You are more important than you can ever imagine. Sure, the body might be able to limp along or compensate for a missing body part, but wouldn’t it be better if it didn’t have to?

A few weeks ago, we had our Song Fest. And it was wonderful. It was uplifting and a huge blessing. But a lot of body parts were missing. It was noticeable. It hurt. Some from other bodies drove 4+ hours to be a part of the gathering, and I am thankful that they did because it only encouraged us all the more.
I wish that these were isolated incidents. However, when we have functions, I can’t help but notice body parts missing. It is heartbreaking to think that someone in our congregation doesn’t see the value in being present. There is a profound beauty in being a part of something bigger than themselves. Some must believe that the body will be fine without them being there. That is not true. The body needs you. It is weaker when you aren’t here.

You might consider yourself only a small percentage of the whole. You might think, “No one notices when I am not there.” But I assure you that we all notice. Being integrated into a body strengthens you in every possible way. It is a benefit to the body and the parts, and it is a perfectly complete organism. To the church in Ephesus, Paul writes:

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:15-16).

Each part is growing; each part is supporting other parts. We can be so much more if we are involved. We become the complete and mature body, working in unison, harmony, and tandem with each other. We need you. Each part individually is just a piece, but those pieces make up the body. We are all growing together and upward. We are all pieces.


Infinity


Some ideas are more challenging to grasp than others. We all understand that we can multiply numbers and even multiply our words to an extent. I can remind my kids that I had previously told them to clean up their rooms three times before they finally tidied up. Cooper will also multiply his words by saying something like, “You already told me 756,000 times.” We all know that this is an exaggeration, but it conveys the meaning well. The translation is I have told him more times than he cares to count.

Perhaps you remember doing the same thing when you were a kid. You would add “infinity” to the end of a phrase to show how much you agree with a statement. For example, “I love you, infinity.” Or “Infinity + 1.” We want to intensify this statement to a point where it is not calculable.

The infinite is a complex concept to grasp. There is no real beginning or end. Theo has asked me how big is “infinity.” That is a challenging question. Because infinity can be small, there is an infinite number of numbers between 1 and 2 (1.1, 1.11, 1.111); they are not whole numbers but have numerical value. Then again, infinity can be an endless amount of whole numbers more than can ever be considered. The highest value you arrive at can always be higher simply by adding 1.

Perhaps this is why when God describes large number values, He does not provide a countable number. Instead, he makes statements like “numerous as the sand on the seashore” or “stars in the sky.” They hold tremendous value but are largely impossible to figure out and calculate. We can safely assume it is too much to count or comprehend. That is why one of my favorite verses is in Psalm 103.

Psalm 103:10-12 – “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor rewarded us according to our guilty deeds. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him. 12 As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our wrongdoings from us.”

It is almost impossible to consider the magnitude of God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness. And yet this poetic verse allows me to comprehend that my sins are gone. They are so far gone that from horizon to horizon, my failings have disappeared. They have not been relegated to another place or tallied for a later time to remind me of my wrongdoings. Instead, God reassures us time and time again that He will wipe the slate clean in a way that we can understand. Quoting the prophet Jeremiah, the preacher of Hebrews states:
 
Hebrews 10:14-19 – “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. 15 The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: 16 “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” 17 Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” 18 And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary. 19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus […].”

Through the blood of Jesus, those sins are gone. God accounted for them, and Jesus paid the sum in full. There is no outstanding balance to be reported. It may seem unfathomable, much like the concept of infinity, but it is hard to wrap our minds around. Yet, God has promised that he has removed our sins from the east to the west through the blood of the Lamb. They are gone, infinity + 1.



Power

 
There is this one house in our neighborhood. The homeowners are young and inexperienced. These homeowners make a lot of mistakes, and they don’t know there are unwritten rules to owning a home. In life, there are a lot of problems that take a couple of tries before you figure out how to handle them.

Case in point, about a week ago, they still needed to cut their front lawn. It had become a jungle of vegetation reaching almost a foot in some areas (not that I actually measured it). They did what any new homeowner would do. They went out and bought a lawnmower. Then, they went out and bought a new electric mower. These new mowers are great, but due to the grass’s depth and the yard’s size, the mower’s new battery was drained relatively quickly. When you buy an electric mower, you typically only get one battery; these batteries cost approximately $150-250, depending on the Ah (ampere-hour or amp-hour) or how long the battery will last while operating under normal conditions. The resulting situation was a lawnmower stuck in a sea of grass while waiting for its only power source to recharge.

I don’t fault the new homeowners; that is simply a mistake that you only make a few times. We have all been there; we have overextended ourselves. We have bitten off more than we can chew. We drove too far on a half-tank of gas. We’ve all had these moments where we are stuck in the middle of a problem, having run out of power.

Romans 1:16, 20 NASB20 – “16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. … 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, being understood by what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”

This word power is more significant than we can imagine. And yet it is something that I don’t think we take advantage of to its fullest extent. In both verses, the power is from God, and it is impossible to downplay the immense power of God. He created the heavens and the earth and spoke light into existence. The Greek word for power in these verses is δύναμις dýnamis; it is from this root that we gain our word dynamite. We have access to a power that is explosive and sustaining. The gospel and the world’s creation were affected by and through the same power. It is this same power that lives in every one of us. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians that this power keeps us going and supports us.

2 Corinthians 4:7-12 NASB20 – “7 But we have this treasure in earthen containers, so that the extraordinary greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; 8 we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying around in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who live are constantly being handed over to death because of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our mortal flesh. 12 So death works in us, but life in you.”

Paul makes the case that even though we may encounter every hardship, including the expiration of our physical bodies. The element that makes all of this possible is not our ability or fortitude; it is from the same power that created the universe that raised a body from the grave that loves the unlovable. This is the power that propels us. This is the power that picks us up when our lawn mower stalls in the front yard. The question is how to keep from getting run down. We must keep plugging into the power that comes from above. We must tap into the real and lasting power that comes from above.
 


Cavities

 
A few weeks ago, I had a dental check-up. I entered the appointment thinking that everything was going to be okay. They started with X-rays to see things that aren’t visible to the naked eye. Then they began cleaning and checking the overall health of the mouth and gums. When the dental tech finished the cleaning, the dentist came in to give me his prognosis and diagnosis. He said everything looked great, but one of my molars had a soft white spot, and then he poked it with an instrument to demonstrate how it was weaker than expected. He said it was the beginning of a cavity, and we needed to remove it and come in for a filling in a few weeks.

Prior to this visit, my teeth didn’t hurt. I was unaware of the hidden problems within my mouth. Unchecked, my tooth would have continued to decay, and my issues would have worsened over time. For the most part, we have no idea what is happening in our mouths. Unless we have routine check-ups, we can harbor harmful conditions in our teeth. To put it another way, we are blind to our present situation, and we can often live ignorantly in a state of decay until something more traumatic happens. However, because of the expertise and knowledge of the dentist, I trusted his advice and was delivered from the ensuing threat.

As humans, we are blind to our corrupt condition. We think, “I am okay, I don’t have any pain or problems.” Or even more dangerous, we declare, “I’m good.” We stumble through life without knowing the true jeopardy of our position. Yet. When the Creator of the universe, described as the Life-Giving Spirit, communicates with us through His prophets and apostles, He says:

Jeremiah 17:9 NASB20 – “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?”
Mark 7:21-22 NASB20 – “For from within, out of the hearts of people, come the evil thoughts, [acts of] sexual immorality, thefts, murders, [acts of] adultery, 22 deeds of greed, wickedness, deceit, indecent behavior, envy, slander, pride, [and] foolishness.”
Romans 3:9-18, 23 NASB20 – “What then? Are we [the Jews] better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin, as it is written:

“THERE IS NO RIGHTEOUS PERSON, NOT EVEN ONE;
THERE IS NO ONE WHO UNDERSTANDS; THERE IS NO ONE WHO SEEKS OUT GOD;
THEY HAVE ALL TURNED ASIDE; TOGETHER, THEY HAVE BECOME CORRUPT; THERE IS NO ONE WHO DOES GOOD; THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.
THEIR THROAT IS AN OPEN GRAVE; WITH THEIR TONGUES, THEY KEEP DECEIVING,
THE VENOM OF ASPS IS UNDER THEIR LIP;
THEIR MOUTH IS FULL OF CURSING AND BITTERNESS;
THEIR FEET ARE SWIFT TO SHED BLOOD,
DESTRUCTION AND MISERY ARE IN THEIR PATHS,
AND THEY HAVE NOT KNOWN THE WAY OF PEACE.
THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES.”…

23 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

When we read this, we become aware of our actual disease. We think we are better than we are. We believe that we are impervious to decay, and the virtue of our character upholds us. Yet, we are rotting under the surface. Humanity has cavities that are not visible to the naked eye; therefore, we must trust the expertise and knowledge of the One who made us. That alone takes a considerable amount of faith; however, this is our understanding that we don’t have all the answers.

I think about the dentist poking my tooth to demonstrate the lack of hardness in my enamel. We can do the same thing spiritually. If we are honest with ourselves, we realize we aren’t perfect and have deficiencies. We can tell we are not complete. And no amount of metaphorical brushing or fluoride will fix our problem. First, sin-sickness must be rooted out and destroyed within our hearts. Then, we must fill our hearts with something else. Something more durable that is not prone to the harmful effects of sin. Something eternal and everlasting.

Ephesians 3:14-21 – “For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

We must admit on some level that our hearts have these areas of decay and corrosion. How will we choose to fill our troubled hearts? Will we ignorantly dismiss the warnings presented to us? Or will we find our security in God and His Son, letting Him fill our emptiness or cavities?
 

Richland Church of Christ
 


Found

 
Two weeks ago, I had a terribly unfortunate incident happen to me. Early Saturday morning, I was helping Madasyn move her belongings up to Lewiston, ID (thanks, Dan and Dana, for driving them up there). After the move, I was taking the hitch off my truck; I’m not particularly eager to hit my shin on a trailer hitch, so I took mine off immediately. Unfortunately, while taking the hitch off, I must have set my wallet on my bumper, and then I drove away…

By the time I realized what I had done, I was already at the Home Depot on Duportail, and the wallet was gone. I immediately began retracing my steps; however, seeing a brown wallet from a moving vehicle was nearly impossible. After I retraced my route twice, I admitted defeat and began calling banks to cancel the cards in my billfold and preparing to get new IDs. However, before I submitted any full cancellations, I told myself to wait 48 hours in case it happened to turn up somewhere.

Then it happened at 8:26 am on Sunday; a random stranger sent my wife a message saying they had found my wallet. Immediately after services, I rushed to his house to claim my lost belongings. If you have ever lost something like that, it is a feeling you can’t contain; it is relief mixed with joy, overflowing with gratitude.

In Luke 15, Jesus tells us three parables regarding lost items. And because we are often the wayward and lost things, we identify with the feeling of being found. Yet, the sensation of recovering something that was lost is undeniably better. Often, the lost items do not know they are lost; my wallet had no idea it was gone floating on the winds of uncertainty. While the one who lost them knows they are gone and has to deal with that sorrow and the question of “What if?” And therefore, when the sadness is gone and replaced by joy, how great is that rejoicing?

Luke 15:5-7, 9-10, 32 NASB20 – “And when he has found it, he puts it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 “And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my sheep that was lost!’ 7 “I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance. …
9 “And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found the coin which I had lost!’ 10 “In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”…
32 ‘But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.'”

Is it any wonder why Jesus tells this from the perspective of God and the heavenly realm? Can you imagine the amount of rejoicing in heaven when someone is found again? God is the originator of emotions, and the Bible describes Him with the same adjectives and emotions we can experience. Leading me to believe that the joy He feels is superior to ours, as He more fully understands the ramifications between our states of being lost and found. I wish for only a moment that we could appreciate the delight God feels when someone returns to His embrace.

I was beyond excited to have my wallet returned. To know that it was back in my possession brought considerable happiness. And it was only a trivial wallet. It compares nothing to someone’s soul. Perhaps that is why all of heaven rejoices when those who are lost become found. When the shepherd finds the wayward sheep or when the son returns from their time of wild living. Let’s find lost things and fill heaven with great rejoicing. Let’s get to celebrating.
 


Storing Up Treasures

 
I love LTC for many reasons. One aspect is meeting new people from around the PNW and reconnecting with others we may only see once a year. There is also the excitement of participating in an event with so much energy. Combine this with the nerves and awkwardness of young people displaying their skills and talents, some that they have been working on for months and even years. Sweaty palms, queasy stomachs, racing heartbeats; it is glorious!

Under the pretext of competition, there is something that is infinitely more important. It is having young people see a model of faith lived out and displayed by peers. The world of vibrant faith is isolating, as Jesus described in his sermon, which he presented on a mountainside.

Matthew 5:11-12 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in this same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

When you exhibit your faith externally, people will notice, and many times they will cringe and despise you in response to your outward display. Yet, these young people can, for one weekend, see that they are not alone. They can experience that many more like them are holding onto their faith. It can be a significant boost for their spiritual lives. Much like Elijah when he is hiding from Jezebel.

1 Kings 19:10, 18 “[Elijah] replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”… 18 [The LORD said to him] Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel–all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”

For Elijah, this was a life-changing, faith-strengthening event, and I know it is the same for so many of our youth who wander school halls filled with contradictory and conflicting beliefs. They sit among friends who have “bowed down to Baal” who pay lip service to a culture that is hostile to God. They feel all alone. However, for one weekend, they see others who worship and revere the God of Heaven’s Armies. And I love it!

And yet perhaps my favorite thing about the weekend is that these young people are pursuing God’s word. From Bible Bowl to speeches, singing, drama, Bible readers theater, and signing, all are dependent and focused on recounting God’s word. And whether they acknowledge it or not, they have tucked a piece of this inside their heart. Through these exhibitions, they have transferred bits of knowledge from their short-term to their long-term memory. We should notice and celebrate it because it is life-altering. Through the prophet Isaiah, God states:“The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:8). Through events like LTC, we are placing something eternal within their hearts. Through their dedication and actions, they are storing up for themselves treasures for future experiences.
Our adversary can quickly destroy faith, manipulating this world to follow his direction. So it is a challenge to remain faithful. And I will assert that it is humanly impossible, but by consuming God’s word and hiding it in our hearts, equipping ourselves to defeat our opponent.

Psalm 119:9-11 “How can a young person stay pure? By obeying Your word. 10 I have tried hard to find You–don’t let me wander from Your commands. 11 I have hidden Your word in my heart, that I might not sin against You.”

If we can get our children to reflect on these thoughts, we have placed eternity within their hearts…and leading them toward life everlasting. I also want to challenge those who may not directly resemble children anymore. Start memorizing scripture, finding one that you would like to store inside your heart for future referencing. I guarantee that this simple action blesses you more than you can ever imagine.
By hiding God’s word within our hearts, He is never far from any of us, as the psalmist continues. Even when we wander away, He is there because of these treasures within our hearts.

Psalm 119:176 “I have wandered away like a lost sheep; come and find me, for I have not forgotten your commands.”

 


Free Indeed

Free Indeed

As I sat in the juror selection pool, a person couldn’t help but wonder what kind of case it would be. And then you start to consider the incredible responsibility of hearing a case and deciding someone’s future, whether they will be incarcerated or freed. In walks the defendant, a picture of normality, an ordinary everyday person. You recall that in our country, we are protected by the Presumption of Innocence and that regardless of the crime, everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty. This is a remarkable liberty, and we’re blessed to live in a society where this is the law of the land.

And yet part of the process is the jurors are presented with a brief summary of the case, including the accusations against the defendant. And when you hear these accusations, and even though this person is presumed innocent and looks normal, you can’t help but imagine the defendant in some state of guilt or responsibility. I suspect that the more heinous the crime, the harder this preconception would be to shake. And yet, everyone is innocent until proven otherwise. 

This is far different when we consider our spiritual case. We, of course, know that we are guilty as charged. We know that we have all sinned and fallen short of honoring God (Romans 3:23); we also know that if you break only one part of God’s Law, you are guilty of the whole thing (James 2:10); this includes showing partiality. We stand before the Judge already condemned. Knowing that you have a guilty verdict against you and you have no one to plead your case would be a terrible situation. 

Another question that was asked of the juror selection pool was if we would think poorly of the defendant if they did not take the witness stand? Many people feel that public testimony of innocence is a powerful tool, but it can also lean others toward a guilty verdict. Some lawyers advise their clients to refrain from taking the witness stand to take this issue off the table. You don’t want to provide any evidence of guilt because that might convict you of a crime. And you definitely would like to avoid standing before a jury of your peers and admitting to the crime. 

Yet that is precisely what we are called to do in our Christian faith. 

1 John 1:6-10 – “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and [yet] walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 7 but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous, so that He will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.”

Wrestle with this thought for a moment. We are found and sentenced as guilty, doomed to die. But God, in His incredible mercy and grace, provides a way to prevent this condemnation, and it is by admitting our guilt. In a paradoxical position, we gain freedom by admitting we are guilty. The thing that would convict us in a human institution is the act that pardons us. In fact, by our own admittance and reliance on Jesus, it is as if we were never guilty in the first place. 

Hebrews 10:14-18 – “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. 15 The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: 16 “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” 17 Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” 18 And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.”

According to His marvelous word, God no longer remembers our guilt. The Judge Himself does not bring the charge against us because it ceases to exist. Notice the beauty of verse 14, God has made perfect (the process is complete) those who are “in the process of” being made holy or sanctified. The purification of our sins is both ongoing and also complete. In our court system, we benefit because we are innocent until proven guilty. Yet for the ones covered in the sacrifice of Jesus, we are guilty and declared innocent when we confess our guilt. 

John 8:36 “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”



Beyond Words

This past week I had jury duty, or at least I was placed in a jury selection pool for Franklin County. It was a lesson in the process and dismay of our judicial system. I had never sat in a jury pool before, and how the final jury was selected was enlightening. Of course, both attorneys want to choose the best jury for their case, and even during this activity, they try to “win” their case. You’ll be happy to know that my following few blogs will center around these eye-opening days in the courtroom. 

One of the more intriguing aspects was the role of the stenographer. They have the difficult job of transcribing all the conversations within the courtroom. These discussions can be between jurors, attorneys, judges, plaintiffs, defendants, and even the bailiffs. These exchanges can be heated, and words can begin to fly. It is paramount that the stenographer records each phrase perfectly, and so courts have developed a unique process to capture all of these words. You have a highly trained person utilizing specialized equipment to annotate and catch each purposeful or wayward phrase. Our bailiffs informed us that our stenographer could record 470 words per minute, ensuring that every detail is secured permanently in the court’s official records. 

More important than the words themselves was who said the words.

Of course, this is true for the lawyers, the judge, and those on trial. Furthermore, every prospective juror must identify who they are, using their juror number, ensuring they are credited with their thoughts. You would want the right phrase attributed to the correct person. It could spell doom for either side of the case, and so not only the recorded words matter but also who said what. 

We all see that the Bible contains truth. It includes things that are wise and beyond human intuition. Yet, we also know that many philosophers, throughout time, have stumbled on occasional truths. However, what sets the wisdom contained in the Bible apart is that it has another claim that transcends earthly understanding. The Bible asserts that it contains the Mind of God. 

2 Peter 1:16-21 – “For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. 19 We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

And Paul writes:

1 Corinthians 2:9-11 “But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”– 10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.”

What we have contained in Scripture is more than just cleverly devised words or philosophical ideas; it is God revealing truths to humanity in order to grant them more than our present reality. Sadly, many see the Bible as one version of the truth, leaving the possibility for other truths to exist, as if there can be two contradicting truths.

However, from these two passages, we can declare two statements. 

  • There is only One God, then that one God has only one mind. 
  • That mind is revealed throughout His Word, through His Spirit. 

If you want to know the mind of God, how He thinks, what He wants us to do, and how we are to live. The lesson is simple, read His Word. We can all agree that the words in the Bible are valuable and more precious than gold (Psalm 19:10). Yet, what is often unstated is that these words come from the very mind of God, and that is why they are invaluable. Knowing that God revealed this most intimate part of His character to us is incomprehensible and fills me with an adoration that is BEYOND WORDS

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In Repair

Our house is not old, built in 2006; it is pretty new by housing standards. Even though it is relatively new, it requires routine maintenance and, from time to time, more significant repairs. Having kids, I know I’ll need to repaint a surface or patch a hole periodically. 

By comparison, our first house was built in 1970, and there were some major issues that I was hesitant to tackle. For example, it needed a new HVAC system, it was on its second roof, and the stucco was coming apart. The worst part was that although it had a slab foundation, it had begun to settle in some areas causing more significant issues that needed to be addressed. I suppose that is the blessing and curse of home ownership. You own something tangible, but it takes effort to maintain it, and if you neglect it for too long, it becomes more problematic the longer you hesitate. 

Every house is different; some have seen very little wear and tear. Perhaps their owners were careful or lived in a region that preserved the overall structure. Others have been used and abused, or more poetically, they have “seen” a lot of life. And so on the other hand, these houses need a little more care to make them livable long-term. These structures may have settled, and these issues have taken years to become visible.

On Wednesday nights, we have been focusing on Galatians 6:1-5. Our spiritual lives are a lot like houses. Some individuals need major adjustments, and others need a little paint to smooth out the scuffs in the wall. Those that need minor repairs find it easy to “course correct” and come to Jesus. Asking these people to repent and place their faith in Jesus is non-controversial because their lives require minimal adjusting. However, those that may have seen a little more “life” will struggle to repair the cracks in their foundation. They may see their spiritual lives require a complete overhaul, and the remodeling phase is too much to handle. 

Galatians 6:1-5 – “Brothers and sisters, even if a person is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual are to restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you are not tempted as well. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks that he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting, but to himself alone, and not to another. 5 For each one will bear his own load.”

  • Burden–βάρος báros, bar’-os—a weight that is too heavy to carry. It means to bend down under the weight. 
  • Load–φορτίον phortíon- a small amount of cargo, typically carried as freight on a larger ship. 

As Paul is writing to the church in Galatia, he asserts that this is where a church family comes in; we come alongside our brothers and sisters and help them with their more extensive repair process. Make no mistake; we are cleansed and made new through the death and resurrection of Christ (1 Corinthians 6:11). Yet, part of the repentance process is taking the log or speck out of our eyes. When you have something debilitating in your eye, help is typically required. 

It is a good reminder that we all don’t have the same house. We didn’t start with the same foundation or even the same building code. Some require a bit more paint, and some need a complete renovation. As we walk in fellowship with others, we recognize that some need a little more TLC; therefore, we approach them with grace and patience. It is a reminder that some come to Christ with a lot of structural issues, and it may take years to sort out as they are continually made into the likeness of Jesus. Yet, God’s grace is sufficient, and they, too, are sanctified by the sacrifice of Jesus. However, they might be rough around the edges as they mature and grow. And so we remind ourselves that we are all in some state of repair and might need help with our maintenance issues someday. 



Birth Pains

It has been a little over five years since Theo was born; however, I still remember those jitters as Amanda sat up uncomfortably with her first contractions. I can only imagine the sensation for expecting mothers. The build-up from the previous ten months, combined with the anticipation of bringing life into the world, mingled with the uneasiness of what will happen. And all of this is accompanied by intense moments of pain. I can’t imagine anything as confusing yet simultaneously yearned for as childbirth; last night in our Life Group, the mothers in our group reflected on those days of anguish and joy.

Whitney Dunn recalled how each contraction brought the precious birth closer to realization, providing her hope and purpose to the pain. Amanda reflected that regardless of the pain, she knew it would be momentary and necessary for new life to enter the world. How incredible and marvelous is this process!? I encourage you to reflect on your own experiences or to ask a mom about their experience; I was enlightened by what I heard. And although I will never experience it, I can glimpse the wonder of childbirth and hear the joy, patience, and strength required to bring a baby into this life.

Reflecting on Jesus’ words from Matthew 24, Jesus wanted to let us know that we should prepare ourselves for hard times and possible persecution; after giving us a sampling of future events, he states, “But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pains.” (Matthew 24:8). I cannot think of a better analogy! Because just like birth, there will be momentary pain, which will accompany great joy and life. I think about women who have endured the pain of childbirth and the mentality of the process; they realize that this is a necessity and requirement, yet it will produce something more significant than what was before.

For the Christian, isn’t this the reality? We know whatever we are enduring pales in comparison to what is coming. We understand that each trial, each pain, or heartache is momentary, and there will come a time when every tear will be wiped away. We trust that we can suffer for a little while so that we may be comforted by the Prince of Peace.

That passage in Matthew 24:6-13 contains another truth that benefits us. It reminds us that life is not permanent.

Matthew 24:6-13 – “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. 7 “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 “But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pains. 9 “Then they will hand you over to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. 10 “And at that time many will fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another. 11 “And many false prophets will rise up and mislead many people. 12 “And because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will become cold. 13 “But the one who endures to the end is the one who will be saved.”

We are often under the misconception that we must preserve our current existence. Yet, in this discourse, Jesus reminds his followers that this present life is full of wars, famines, earthquakes, hate, lawlessness, and death. Our current circumstances are not the end goal; this is not God’s ideal for His perfect creation. Thankfully, Jesus reminds us that this is only temporary and that all these atrocities will be over someday. And for those that don’t give up, they will be saved. Those that recognize that these are merely birth pains bringing on something far better are the ones that press on.

The difficulties mentioned are decidedly not pleasant. They are not something most people would willingly accept. And yet, as expectant mothers accept their fate of discomfort, knowing that it will bring an unimaginable newness, we too anticipate these tribulations knowing that it brings us one step closer to our Savior and the life that is to come. And so, while many would see these signs as worrisome and disturbing, we should consider them a process that brings us to an eternal promise that far outweighs our current existence.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 – “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer person is decaying, yet our inner [person] is being renewed day by day. 17 For our momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

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Weather

 
 
Theo and I were talking the other day, and I mentioned we should play outside after his afternoon nap. (Yes, he still naps sometimes, and it is glorious!) I also said it looks like it could rain, and the wind might pick up, so we might be unable to play outside. Theo asked, “Do you think you could pray that the rain doesn’t come so that we can play?”

Such a sweet thought, but it is a dangerous request. It is a very self-centered approach to prayer. What if someone else needs the rain, like a farmer preparing for a growing season? It is bold to pray that only my needs are met while simultaneously ignoring the needs of others. Controlling weather patterns for a few minutes of playtime is too excessive for me. But then I remember Elijah, who did pray for the rain to stop, and I consider the circumstances of that request.

James 5:17-18 –
“Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. 18 Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.”

Can you imagine the audacity and resoluteness it would take to pray at this level? A drought of this intensity would cripple a region. He was wiping out all agricultural production for three and a half years. Elijah was affecting not only Ahab and his royal court but everyone in the northern kingdom of Israel and the surrounding regions. This is why the justification of the prayer is essential. Through God’s direction, Elijah was trying to turn a nation back to God and have them stop engaging in pagan idol worship. Elijah is not asking for a few more days of summer but rather a wake-up call to the nation. It may be helpful to know that Baal was the regional god of the storm. Not having any rainfall for three and six months was an indictment of the impotence of Baal. And after the showdown on Mount Carmel, this is the climax of this narrative.

1 Kings 18:36-39
“Then at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet approached and said, “LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, today let it be known that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant, and [that] I have done all these things at Your word. 37 “Answer me, LORD, answer me, so that this people may know that You, LORD, are God, and that You have turned their heart back.” 38 Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood, and the stones and the dust; and it licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 When all the people saw this, they fell on their faces; and they said, “The LORD, He is God; the LORD, He is God!””

The nation is chanting and worshiping the One True God again. This is because they have, at least for a moment, realized that their idols are worthless and powerless. And because their hearts have turned back, Elijah can lift the drought.

1 Kings 18:41 – “Then Elijah said to Ahab, “Go get something to eat and drink, for I hear a mighty rainstorm coming!”

No, I am not advocating for us to pray for drastically adjusted weather patterns. Instead, we should have the mindset that God has ordered the world to operate precisely how it has and always will. We should humbly accept our fate, allow God to control the weather, and adjust our lives accordingly. Yet, the example exists that a single man with a nature like our own was able to change the hearts of a nation by praying that it wouldn’t rain. This narrative is a tremendous example of faith, bold prayer, and changing hearts. Many of the things we pray for are mundane and perhaps even profane. Yet the cause and purpose of Elijah’s prayer were to reconcile a nation back to God.
Do we courageously pray that hearts are changed, and that loved ones draw closer to Jesus? Hopefully, like Elijah, you are praying for a change in the weather.