Pray For Your Enemies

Blog 2.28.2022

Pray For Your Enemies

Birds of a feather… we all like to gather in groups that are similar to us. It provides us comfort and reduces the chance of possible conflict. We typically do this without recognizing that we do it; we find people in similar life stages, hobbies, or even just people that look like us. Studies have shown that it is a subconscious process, and most school-aged children do it instinctively. We find people that we have things in common with, and we make them “our people.” We create these imaginary lines of in-groups versus out-groups and create an “us versus them” mentality with every social interaction.

Along these lines, war is unequaled in its polarization; it can emphasize the viciousness and heroism of humans. Those distinctions lay mainly on the viewpoint of who you align with within the conflict. From any given vantage point, someone can be the hero or the villain; often, those terms are simultaneously accurate. Count yourself blessed if you have never had to wonder if you are the hero or the villain of the story. The distinction of “friend” or “foe” depends solely on which uniform you put on that morning. We all like to imagine that we are the good guys, and everyone else is the evil, vile opposition. We announce our attributes and demonize the opponent. In this process, we often dehumanize the enemy because how could someone be so evil that they could fight against the side I support. It brings this realization to the forefront of my mind that regardless of the side you stand on: Every person has the capacity for great good or great evil; and when you realize that, you realize that no one is truly good (“Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good”- Matthew 19:17)

One example from history highlights this concept well for me. During the Great War (WWI), only five months into that struggle, an event surpassed comprehension. Historians called it the Christmas Truce, and it occurred on Christmas day 1914. The forces gathered there participated in an informal cease-fire throughout the Western Front. Both sides fixed in horrific trench warfare just the day prior, put down their weapons of battle, and engaged in holiday celebrations and even gift-giving. Another remarkable event is that British and German soldiers participated in singing Christmas carols together during this cease-fire! One German office put it this way, “How marvelously wonderful, yet how strange it was. The English officers felt the same way about it. Thus Christmas, the celebration of Love, managed to bring mortal enemies together as friends for a time” (German Lieutenant Kurt Zehmisch). During this terrible time in history, people gathered together to praise the birth of Jesus, the same Savior that we worship every day.

Why do I share this story? Because we like to segregate and separate into groups. We want to imagine that we are better than those around us, especially those who stand opposed to us. That we are the heroes and they are the villains. That somehow, we have some quality that elevates us above everyone else. The reality is that no one is good; only God is good. The truth is we are all humans with the capacity for both good and evil. This is why the Gospel matters so much.

Romans 5:8-11 
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

We should keep in mind that, at one point, we were all enemies of God. Vile, wretched, enemies of the only One who is good. Perhaps that is why scripture instructs us to be prayerful and kind to our enemies.

  • Matthew 5:44- “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” 
  • Luke 6:27-28- “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
  • Romans 12:20- On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.”

We are not that different from our enemies; we are more alike than you might care to think. Whether we want to recognize it or not, we are all created in God’s image. We were all placed at the pinnacle of God’s creation, and… we are all sinners. When we were enemies of God, He was willing to love us and die for us. Not because we were the same or even morally aligned, but because we needed it. God loved and died for us because we were enemies, not because we were friends.

Many people are declaring that we should “Pray for Ukraine,” and rightfully so, they need a physical deliverance from certain harm; and God has the power to effect real change in this terrible situation. But we also pray for the “enemy” because only God can change a heart. Ezekiel 36:26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. We pray for the worst in humanity because we are not different from them. We pray for our enemies because only God can change their hearts, and that is where actual change can happen. We pray for peace because that preserves all image-bearers of God. And we love our enemies because God loved and died for us while we were still opposed to Him.

Romans 5:8 
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”



Keep Striving

Keep Striving

Our youngest boy, Milo, is difficult to contain, persistent, and unstoppable. Between the ages of 12-18 months, children become intrepid explorers. This phase of a child’s life is exhilarating, but it is exhausting and exasperating for safety-conscious parents. For Milo, there isn’t an obstacle or challenge that is too lofty or intimidating. Chairs, stairs, cabinets, bookshelves, and tables, if there is a furniture item in existence, Milo has tried to climb it and, through sheer determination, has conquered just about every inch of our house. Observing this leaves me with a feeling of amazement at the human spirit. The only thing that stops him is when Amanda or I redirect (physically pick him up) him from whatever task he is trying to master. However, another thought creeps into my mind, why do I give up so easily? When presented with a difficult challenge, why do I stop when the going gets tough? When did you stop striving… when did you start settling?

Philippians 3:12-14 – 

 “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Paul writes the book of Philippians enduring his prison sentence in Rome; it is also towards the end of life. Even though he is bearing his share of hardships, he wants to help the church in Philippi. Paul encourages the church in Philippi to keep going. However, the words that he chose convey a stronger emphasis than “keep going” Paul uses the word ἐπεκτείνομαι epekteínomai- to stretch (oneself) forward, to reach forth. This idea of straining, or stretching, should inspire us. It is the notion of pushing ourselves to the next level. This should create a mental picture of someone aspiring to reach something just out of their grasp. 

As he moves throughout our house, Milo is not satisfied with being a rug rat. He is not happy merely cruising from point A to B. He wants to achieve and climb; in his exploration, he pushes every boundary and never settles for the status quo. We also observe this in the mentality of Paul. He does not live in the notion that he has already arrived at the destination. Instead, Paul is stretching and striving for whatever lies ahead. He writes that this involves forgetting what was behind. It is easy to rest on our achievements and accomplishments, and for Paul, that is something that certainly could have happened. However, He chose to keep striving and pressing onto that goal of an eternal home. 

Our striving does not mean that our spiritual existence is bound by what we accomplish on this earth. Rather, as Paul states, Jesus has already taken hold of it for us, now we are merely striving for what Jesus has already accomplished. Jesus has secured the prize; therefore, we should take it as a relief and a challenge to keep moving forward. We should imitate Paul, pressing on to win the award, not for our recognition and achievement, but because that is what God has called us to do. 

It is not easy to daily live out and profess our beliefs. It is easy to give up and stop pushing ourselves. Perhaps we feel as though we have arrived or that we have served our purpose. Momentary setbacks have caused us to stay grounded, and we refuse to keep trying. We have grown comfortable and complacent. This is our reminder to keep striving, stretching, and pressing on, contending for our faith. Let us not be satisfied with where we have been or what we have done. I encourage you to keep striving because of what Jesus did for you.  



Love First

Blog 2.14.2022

Love First

February 14 is a tricky day. For some, it is a day to exhibit a grandiose spectacle of adoration for another person; and for others, it is a day that lives in infamy. While I would wager to guess that for 90% of us, we fall somewhere between these two extremes. How you feel about the day is not where the uncertainty lies, the hard part about Valentine’s Day is knowing how your significant other wishes to observe the day. There are two options, have a conversation outlining expectations, or you have to know your partner well enough to make that determination. Because people are inconsistent, I always recommend having a conversation; regardless of what is said, do something meaningful to represent that love: a handwritten note or a walk down memory lane are good places to start and end reminiscing about a relationship. The tactics listed above are not without flaws; some may not appreciate what is offered. Some individuals may say they do not want to celebrate in any fashion while secretly hoping for any gesture of affection, large or small. That is why I suggest always doing something.

Looking at scripture, I see this principle observed. God loves us more thoroughly than we realize. God also knows humanity better than we know ourselves. He is our creator, and He searches our thoughts and hearts. You would imagine that gestures of love would not be an issue; however, humans are fickle, inconsistent beings. We say we want to be loved but reject all forms of love. We say we don’t want others to make a big deal about us, and then we grumble when no one notices us. Our words, thoughts, and actions rarely align on the subject of love. That is why I am thankful that God is greater than our hearts (1 John 3:20). But perhaps the best way to navigate this complicated pseudo-holiday is by loving first.

1 John 4:19
“We love because he first loved us.”

This is the pinnacle of love. God knew that we struggle with love. Recognizing love, receiving love, and especially expressing love; so, He did the inconceivable, He loved us first. Humanity would have balked at the idea of a gesture so grand and amazing, retorting, “No, you don’t have to do anything; we are good just the way we are.” We would have dismissed any displays of affection, rejecting the source and author of love. Perhaps we would have said, “I like what you gave me last year; I mean the earth and everything in is so nice, you don’t have to do anything else.” God knew better, He knew we needed His love, and the love we needed required a demonstration so monumental that we could not ignore it. We cannot overlook that the sacrifice also restores our relationship to God and is wrapped up in this demonstration of love. This incredible act of love is what draws us closer to God and allows us to have a relationship with Him. We are so inept at love that God made the This is how much we needed God’s love, pay for our iniquities, and pave the way for us to dwell in the love that can only come from Him.

This supreme example of love has another advantage; it allows us to comprehend love and give it to others.

1 John 4:7-12
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.”

Love is complex; it may be too lofty for us to fully understand. This is the wonderfulness of God’s love. In this passage, we perceive the very nature of God; in this passage, love is demonstrated perfectly. The sending and sacrifice of Jesus provided the complete definition of love, giving practicality to a complex concept. Through this passage, we learn a few things. First, love is from God; it is a divine quality granted to us. Second, we perform love through actions; God’s love sent Jesus into the world. This example also shows that love is sacrificial. Third, love is enduring; it does not stop with us; therefore, we should pass it on to others. If we choose not to love, the love we do have is incomplete and imperfect. On a day we remember to love, let’s bring these concepts into reality. Let us write little notes showing that we care. Let us be the first to say how much we love someone else; let us live out our love through actions giving up our own comforts for the benefit of others.

Let us love first, through our actions, sacrificially, enduringly, and how God first loved us.



Be Especially Good

Blog 2.7.2022

Be Especially Good

I saw this sign today: “The world is short staffed- PLEASE- be kind to those that showed up.” We have all been through a tumultuous two years, and many people are at their breaking point. However, there is something about this sign that shocks me. I am not an economist, so I will not comment on the current economy or the apparent labor shortages. I will not even comment on whether or not this is an accurate statement- however, from my observations, there appears to be a staffing shortage wherever I look. What strikes me as peculiar is that we now post signs encouraging the common decency of kindness to those who are serving us. Not only does our current society require a placard indication we should be kind, but the sign even justifies why we should be kind. I am not sure if this sign speaks more to our short attention span and our need for immediate gratification; or if it addresses our current lack of care for others. This sign is representative of the ugliness that we see every day.

When we feel we have been wronged, it becomes easy to do wrong to others. This is part of the problem that is beginning to surface all around us. Nowadays, we all feel as though we have been wronged or mistreated, perhaps because we had to wait or because the last two years seem particularly unfair. We are tired and frustrated; we have become weary of doing the honorable and noble things. Likewise, the people around us have grown tired of doing good to others. This is why we need reminders throughout God’s word to encourage us not to give up. Galatians chapter 6 informs us how people who live by the Spirit should act, carrying each other’s burdens; part of this is doing what is good to those around us.  

Galatians 6:9-10 

 “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

One of the major takeaways from this verse is that we should acknowledge that all of us can grow weary in doing good. When we are subjected to the fatigue caused by the world around us, it can become more difficult to do good to those around us. Some individuals will see this as an opportunity to give up and be rude or mean. They will refuse to show kindness and gentleness, limiting the grace they extend to others. Some will see that life is hard, and they will repay others with that same hardness that they have endured.

Not for those who live by the Spirit.

For those that live by the Spirit, we have a different calling. Christ called us to meekness, mercy, and peace (Matthew 5:5-9). These hallmarks are how we fulfill the law of Christ, a law written on our hearts. We, who live by the Spirit, do not grow weary in doing good. God’s word promises that we will gain a reward for not giving up and resorting to the ugliness of the world around us.

One final thought regarding this passage, Paul instructs his audience to extend this goodness to the “family of believers” specifically. This phrase makes me reflect on that sign, which asked its readers to “be kind to those who showed up.” For those that are present and choosing to stand against the desire to quit and give up; for those that have grown weary… be wonderfully kind. We all have this shared experience; it is hard to be a Christ-follower. We should be good, honorable, pleasant with everyone we interact with, and when we are interacting with a member of our family… we should be especially good toward them. Your fellow Christ-followers are showing up, so be good to them, show them the love, kindness, and grace that Christ has given to us. I can’t imagine how much better life would be if we did not grow wearing in doing good, specifically to the family of believers.  

**As I wrote this, there was a fatal active shooter event just a few miles away. A recent reminder of the evilness and ugliness that is in the world. An ever-present indication that we cannot grow weary in doing good. The time is always short, this world needs to know our Savior, which is the greatest good we can accomplish. **

Romans 12:21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.



It Goes By So Quickly

Blog 1.31.2022

It Goes by So Quickly

It was good to get away for a week. I am always intrigued by our perceptions of time passing. Leading up to our trip, Amanda and I were getting ready for our vacation, eager with anticipation for our time away. It would be our first vacation without our boys and our first significant vacation since 2020. We were dreaming of palm trees and warm beaches and the diminished responsibilities of work and parenthood for a few days. The months and days leading up to our excursion were filled with excitement as we planned out all the places we would eat and visit while on the island of Maui.

However, something interesting happened the moment our plane touched down. The realization that this trip would be temporary met us as we stepped off the plane. We were aware of this fact going into our trip, yet this notion became a reality that this trip was finite and fleeting. We only had seven days to do what we wanted, and time’s insistent marching became our adversary. You have two options when you realize this; you could sit and sulk in your hotel room, miserable that the time will soon be over—pouting that you didn’t have enough time to do everything you could imagine. Or, you can go and make the most of the time you have. The answer is obvious, you go and make the most of the time that you do have.

These realizations brought two passages, 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 and Ephesians 5:15-16.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18
 “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Ephesians 5:15-16 
“Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”

When it comes to our life on earth, we must make the ultimate recognition that the time is temporary. Some may experience this concept with dread or sorrow, and some may welcome an end to their days; whether we like it or not, we do not inhabit this existence forever. Everything we endure and experience on this earth is short-term within the grand scheme of things. While we are here, our lives may seem short or long, passing or perpetual, and either fleeting or forever; we may even fluctuate between these thoughts daily. However, according to God’s word, our time on earth is only momentary. Some individuals may never adjust to this reality. They may groan and complain that there isn’t enough time or that some have more time than they do. Some may even try to extend their time as if they have any control over that statistic. It is like those travelers stuck in their hotel room wishing for more time yet never capitalizing on their present situation.

For the Christian, we are aware of the passing of time, but we observe that there is also a future eternal glory. Because of the resurrection of Christ, we know that our death is not the end of our existence. We grasp that there is something that is beyond the lives we are experiencing. And so, whether our time on earth is short or long, enjoyable or sorrowful, positive or negative, we know that there is a life to come. Paul spends most of 2 Corinthians chapter 4 discussing the hardships and difficulties in our mortal bodies (vv. 8-9), but he maintains his confidence in the life to come. Like unhappy tourists, we can begrudge the fact that our time will be over soon, or we can make the most of every opportunity. These opportunities are bound up in the supporting verses of 2 Corinthians 4:6 and Ephesians 5:8-13; these verses communicate that we are lights, and we become aware that there is only a finite amount of time to shine into the darkness. In Ephesians 5:16, Paul acknowledges that the days are evil, literally that “the days” are our adversaries. We recognize that both time and the maliciousness of this world are stacked against us; this doesn’t change anything about our circumstances. However, it is why we should make the most of every opportunity.

Because our time is short, let us make the most of every opportunity to live like lights in the darkness.



Wrong Motivations

Wrong Motivations

My, oh my. Dad is tired of the fighting. My kids have entered a new dimension of their relationship. They used to be two easy-going brothers. Sure, there were petty squabbles here and there, but for the most part, they just played nicely. However, lately, things have changed. It now seems they can’t interact for more than a few minutes before one of them is either telling the other to stop doing something, or they are tattling to Amanda or me, hoping we will intervene and sort out their problems. Amanda and I believe we have discerned the issue; not long ago, Cooper was complicit with everything his older brother Theo asked of him. Games they played and even the colors they were coloring were prescribed and chosen by Theo. Then Cooper began asserting his boundaries, informing his brother of his personality, which comes with his likes and dislikes. Here is an example conversation:

 

Theo: Let’s play dinosaurs!

Cooper: I don’t want to play dinosaurs.

Theo: Okay, you be the stegosaurs.

Cooper: I don’t want to play dinosaurs. 

Theo: Fine, you be the triceratops. 

Cooper: No, I don’t want to play, I want to color… 

Theo: Play!

Cooper: No!!!! 

 

The argument ensues, and both are left frustrated, upset, and mad at the other. Partially for not listening and being forced to do things they don’t want to do. As a parent, I know this is normal, and the boys are just adjusting to relationships formed in preferences and their independence. I get it, but I become wearied with the continual fighting.  

This fighting reminds me of a passage within the book of James, and he writes to those early disciples. James informs his readers to act differently; he also advises them why they are prone to such common fight-inducing tendencies.  

James 4:1-4 

 “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. 4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”

I appreciate the plain language of James. The motivations of these early disciples, and ourselves, are wrapped up in wrong intentions and selfish desires. There are so many things built upon us just wanting to get our way. We invent reasons why it is better for everyone if we get what we want. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we internally make statements like, “If people would just listen to me there wouldn’t be any problems.” Or, “It would be a lot smoother if people just did what I want.” Those statements are grounded in a ‘me first’ selfish mentality. 

James’ language is strong, and he conjures up thoughts of the first brothers, Cain and Abel. In that narrative, Cain doesn’t begin with evil intentions. We should regard Cain’s attempt of providing a God-pleasing sacrifice as noble but flawed; however, instead of adjusting his thoughts and attitudes, he believes it is easier to do away with the competition. Therefore, James mentions, “You desire but do not have, so you kill.” When we start to see the people around us as competition and obstacles, we are heading down a dangerous path. A mentality of “my way or the highway” does not produce beneficial results for each other. Only one person gets to be “right,” and the other person is left dealing with the suppression of their individuality. 

**Keep in mind these issues listed in James as personal desires. There are issues that we must stand our ground on; however, there should never be a one-sided conversation. We should be willing to hear each other out and discuss things as though we are adults and not children ages 2-4**

James’ guidance is simple, look at your desires; are they desiring what God wants or things of the world? Are you merely looking out for your interests and elevation of status? If you don’t get your way, are you willing to sever relationships and hate your brother/sister? We must also realize that James advises his readers that behaving in this way not only tarnishes our relationship with each other, starting fights and quarrels but creates a rift between God and us. James calls this rift adultery; we are forsaking the things of God for our desire to get what we want. This is a very dangerous mindset to have, so I encourage you, don’t behave like little children who fight and argue because they don’t get their way. Desire a much more excellent way (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13).

 



Walk In the Son

Blog 1.10.2022

Walk in the Son

It has been over a month, but Milo is now walking; actually, it is more like running. He goes everywhere, and there is nothing that slows him down. When people see Milo, they are amazed at how well he motors around. For the longest time, Amanda and I knew Milo was capable of walking, but he wouldn’t take those fateful steps. We imagined he would be walking well before his first birthday, but he kept holding on to everything, literally holding on to couches, chairs, and our fingers. At one point, we acquired this baby-walker; it allowed him to cruise from place to place and generally be under his own power, with the steadying assistance of four wheels. After a month of him using this device, we started to notice that it was simply a crutch. He could walk fine, standing unsupported on his own, but he thought he still needed this walker to help him get from point A to point B. So, we took it away. Finally, he realized that he didn’t need that support, and in no time at all, Milo could move freely without taking this item with him. And he loved it, and his new found freedom was indeed liberating. 

I think of this concept of freedom and the hindrances of the world. We imagine there are these things that are granting us freedom, things like this plastic baby walker. Sure, we can move around, but we are always dragging this burden. It is cumbersome and awkward, but we feel it gives us security and that we need it. We have no idea that it is a crutch and slowing us down. These things seem like they grant us freedom, but we become bound to them; they control us. Jesus informs his listeners of this very fact, as he states: 

John 8:34-36 
“Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

There is a false sense of liberty in sin, and holding on to damaging concepts confines us to a prison cell of ugliness. Maintaining concepts like anger, rage, malice, slander, lying, and even demeaning language (Colossians 3:8-9) becomes a crutch. We imagine this gives us independence, but it holds us back from true freedom. We think it gives us power over each other, and perhaps momentarily, it provides us with a sense of power, but we should realize sin controls us. These harmful concepts are all internalized; other things outside of our bodies can also direct us. Popularity, power, pleasure-seeking, and pride can also become our masters and rob us of our freedom; these were the more common downfalls of Israel’s background. David pens this liberating song about God’s deliverance from our pitfalls and hang-ups.

“May the LORD answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you. 2 May he send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion. 3 May he remember all your sacrifices and accept your burnt offerings. 4 May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed. 5 May we shout for joy over your victory and lift up our banners in the name of our God. May the LORD grant all your requests. 6 Now this I know: The LORD gives victory to his anointed. He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary with the victorious power of his right hand. 7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. 8 They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm. 9 LORD, give victory to the king! Answer us when we call!”

                                                                    – Psalm 20:1-9 NIV  

Some trust in the strength of armies and human powers, but that is not where true strength comes from; true power comes from God. Pledging allegiance to other countries or even “powerful” concepts like anger and materialism only make you loyal and beholden to those entities. You might feel liberated when you yell at that guy who cut you off. Some imagine that money buys freedom, but that is not where true liberation endures. The release comes from realizing that these are only crutches. They are only holding you back. If you want to be free, let go of those crutches and walk in the Son. 



New Year – New You

Blog 1.3.2022

New Year – New You

Every year I end up thinking the same thing, “How can it be 20__ already?” The marking of time moves so swiftly it consistently amazes me how fleeting each minute, day, or year changes continually. We live as though time is our enemy; we are worried and concerned about how much time remains on our mortal clocks. Thoughts of adding more years to our time on earth consume our thoughts. We ask questions such as, “Are we eating right?” or “Am I taking the right vitamins?” These are good questions, and we should be taking care of our physical needs and not living haphazardly with our time on this temporal globe. For most of our lives, we want to scream at the clocks worldwide to stop counting and keep this ever-progressing time. Yet on one day of the year, we anticipate and gladly accept the clocks moving forward. No other day of the year do we shout the final 10 seconds of a year… except on New Year’s Eve.

It doesn’t matter if your last trip around the sun was enjoyable or regretful; we look forward to the opportunities of another year. If it was an agreeable year, we are hopeful that our next year will continue similarly. If our last year were appalling, we would anticipate the possibility of brighter days.

There is this thought that amuses me. We all know that shifting days of a calendar and even the progression from year to year is an artificial contrivance. Meaning both the day of the week and the year we are inhabiting are arbitrary to a great extent. We keep these dates so that the world is on the same temporal page, making life and interpersonal transactions more straightforward. We can know how old we are and make advanced scheduling appointments employing simple arithmetic.

From a Christian perspective, we also know that God exists outside of time and is not affected by it. We read passages like “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen” (1 Timothy 1:17 ESV), and “do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8 ESV). Furthermore, the verses surrounding these statements suggest that time is for our benefit. God has been patient with humanity for this very purpose; strictly speaking, we needed time to figure things out and draw near Him. This helps me reframe how I perceive my existence; time is not a curse for humanity but an opportunity for me to live the way God intended.

Perhaps this is why we get excited every year for our calendars to roll forward, potential. It is the potential for things to get better, our potential to improve our own lives. People set resolutions to change themselves for the better, and a new year provides the marker for that to happen. However, most New Year resolutions fail after the first month because change is hard. And most of our resolutions are superficial and shallow, compared to the type of change required for a meaningful existence. It is no wonder that God is patient, and in His loving timelessness, He gives us ample occasions to transition to a fuller life.

Thoughts like this remind me of the rich, young man from Luke 18 and Jesus’ subsequent explanation of the conversation. Jesus asked this individual to make life-altering changes, and the man went away sorrowful. We have this passage recorded for us to contemplate, “Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” 27 But [Jesus] said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God” (Luke 18:26-27 ESV). The truth is these changes and resolving to be better will ultimately fail. We cannot change ourselves in this way. Repentance and salvation by my human ability will be an unending cycle of failure and disappointment. Thankfully God has paved a better way because nothing is impossible with God. The Bible informs us of two great benefits that God grants us on our spiritual transformation. 

Titus 3:4-7 ESV – “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

God rescues us by His goodness and loving-kindness; by giving up His Son. Not only that, but we are being regenerated and renewed by that same power. If it were up to me, there would be no way for true change to happen. Like the rich young man, this would have been impossible. But for God, everything is within the realm of possibilities. So as we start a new year, think about having true significant change, a change that does not happen on your ability, but meaningful change happens by the power of God. Do not strive against that change, and allow the Spirit to produce within you the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Let this be the year of the new you.



Sorrow Into Joy

Blog 12/27/2021

Sorrow into Joy!

I feel as though I have done a lot in my life so far. Yet out of all of the things I have seen and have been a part of, nothing gives me joy and happiness like being a parent. One aspect I love about being a parent is experiencing the world through my children’s eyes. The month leading up to Christmas is truly a wonderful experience and puts a lot into perspective. My kids love looking at all of the decorations in stores or on the streets, they enjoy baking and icing cookies, and they love the thought of receiving presents. Even though Theo has watched the Grinch movie countless times, he knows Christmas is not only about presents… to him; it is still about presents. We all love a good gift, and to receive something as an unwarranted surprise is every person’s dream. I recognize that the best present that I have is the gift of my children.

As I was studying for the lesson on obedience being the product of faith this last week, I looked at that passage in Hebrews 11 concerning Abraham’s faith. And there was a thought that struck me, and one I would like to share with you.

Hebrews 11:17-19 ESV –
“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.”

I consider the steps of Abraham and Isaac as they traverse the hills of Moriah, leading to the fateful spot where God will test Abraham’s faith. As we read the account in Genesis 22, we are confronted with how difficult this would be for a parent to experience. Each step would be met with sorrow and resolve. At some point, Abraham’s faithful determination would presume that this was the last journey that he and his son would ever take, mentally handing him over to his future fate. I cannot imagine the pain of losing a child, and my heart aches for every parent that has ever had to endure that pain. The heartache of Abraham during this journey would have been dreadful and excruciating.

Yet, with his knife in hand, what extreme joy would have consumed his heart when he heard the angel of the Lord exclaim, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him” (Genesis 22:12)—presenting us with the reality described in Hebrews 11:19. Although in Abraham’s resolve, he has already committed Isaac to death, halting his hand, he receives his son back from doom. In a very real sense, this is the second time God gave Abraham the gift of his son, Isaac. The first is his supernatural birth to man and wife in their old age; the second is when he received him back from death.

We don’t often think of the return trip. On the way to the mountains of Moriah, sorrow and distress filled each step, and yet, how much joy would have been expressed because of God’s deliverance of Isaac? I can only imagine the singing and rejoicing as father and son made their way home. No longer would Abraham have to inform Sarah of Isaac’s sacrifice, but now he can shout out the goodness of God and His providence! Laughter, thankfulness, and appreciation would have filled Abraham’s heart, and unending praise would have rolled effortlessly off of his lips. I think of David’s song in Psalm 30.

Psalm 30:11-12 ESV –

“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me -with gladness, 12 that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.

O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever!”

This is the attitude that we all should have as we reflect on the goodness of God and His indescribable gift (2 Corinthians 9:15). What should have been sorrow and sadness for all humanity, we now sing and rejoice like a parent receiving back their children because of the sacrifice of God’s Only Son and his resurrection from the dead. Abraham received an unwarranted gift, and what a surprise that would have been; to regain Isaac from certain death. We, too, have received an unwarranted gift, life everlasting through the offering of the son. To which we can shout and sing and rejoice for the goodness of God.



The Soul Felt Its Worth

Blog 12.20.2021 2

The Soul Felt Its Worth

Right now, our radios and music players are full of songs that we only hear once a year. These songs are reminiscent of by-gone days like “Jingle Bells” or “Winter Wonderland.” Some are just lighthearted songs of merry-making like the “12 Days of Christmas,” and others come to us as hymns from more than a century earlier. Buried in some of these songs are truths that speak to every person; I suppose that is why we sing and play these melodies and the lyrics year after year. Some of these ancient hymns are rooted not only in the upcoming holiday but the faith of the songwriter. One of these songs is “O Holy Night.” Written by the French poet Placide Chapeau in 1843, it speaks to the redemption that Jesus brought with him as he came to this earth. While I don’t suggest taking every Christmas song as a theologically profound poem, there is a line that resonates with me and one I think should convey a deeper meaning to you as well.

The line is from the first stanza stating, “Long lay the world in sin and error pining- Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.” We are acquainted with the idea that sin has entangled humanity from the beginning; prompted by the devil, Jesus came to do away with sin. Those thoughts come from “But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. … 8 the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:5, 8). From the beginning, God made us in His image; that defines us, that was God’s design. However, shortly after, we were represented by another characteristic, sin. Man and woman were the pinnacle of creation and quickly became the curse for the earth. For centuries this is what defined all of the human race; no longer were we the children of God, we were tainted and opposed to His very nature. If you have ever been labeled, you know how damaging it is to be regarded not as a person but as a title. How much worse when the title is unfavorable and degrading. Yet, that is what we were; we all became entrapped in the cycle of sin. However, there was hope; although we were all entangled in sin, fully deserving of wrath, there was the promise of a Messiah. This is how the apostle Paul describes this situation, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned– … 18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people” (Romans 5:12, 18). Sin labeled us, and death was inevitable for all people; humanity needed a rescuer performing one righteous act.

This one righteous act provided life for all people, and this righteous act also justifies us. This justification not only removed sin, but it removed the title of “sinner.” Before this moment of justification, we were fully deserving of wrath and God’s righteous indignation, but after this righteous act, our course was changed. A moment of clarification, this righteous act was not being born in a manger but through this death on a cross. Yet, you cannot have one without the other, and a beginning must come before the end (in this case the middle), as his death was not the end. Peter describes this transaction as being redeemed, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:18-19). This passage tells us our worth. The precious blood of Christ pays for this justification and redemption.

If I realize that I was once a sinner and deserving of death, as we all were. Yet, we are all redeemed. I can then fully realize how much I am worth. I am no longer a product of Adam, but I am a product of the price paid by the Son of God. We were once wallowing in our sins and transgression, yet now I am aware of how much I am worth. Christ Jesus restored us to our rightful place as the image-bearers of God. Transforming us from sinners to individuals chosen and redeemed. Now we can honestly know our worth, not because of what we have done, but because of what Jesus did for all of us.

“Long lay the world in sin and error pining- Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.”