Love Stinks

Maybe the J. Geils Band had it right- “Love Stinks.” In their song by the same name, their group laments that when you open yourself up to love another individual, you will almost inevitably have your heart broken at some point. In middle school, I thought I had it all figured out. I would become a hermit and live in a remote cabin in the woods. Keep in mind I grew up in the 1990s, long before the current trend of off-grid living had taken root. I came to this novel conclusion about remote living because it seemed easier than dealing with other humans. People are a part of life, but they come with their fair share of issues, and for a middle school-aged boy, the logical choice is removing the root of the problem, and that catalyst is the other people.
I hope you don’t misunderstand my sentiment. It is not that I don’t love people because, in fact, I love people so much that I will inevitably get hurt by them. Some have learned this through trial and error and will keep their relationships shallow and superficial. More people operate in this regard because we have all learned at some point that if we trust someone, they will betray our trust.
This is the archetype of Jesus and Judas. Allowing someone into your inner circle of relationships, knowing full well they will betray you and your confidence. I wonder how often that reality played into the disciples’ minds after Jesus ascended to Heaven. As the gospel spread throughout the world, there was always the possibility that someone would harm or hurt them, yet they spread the gospel near and far anyway. They could do this because of the example of Jesus- loving Judas in every situation. 
This is why we call this message the “Good News” that Christ died for us even while we were backstabbing enemies.
Romans 5:7-11 – “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 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.”
From a human perspective, you might be willing to help a good or possibly a righteous person (although “righteous” people are more challenging to deal with), but no one dies for an enemy. It is ludicrous even to fathom the idea of trading your life for someone who is actively against you. And yet, time and time again, we read that this is the message of Christ: giving your life self-sacrificially for others- regardless of what they may do to you in the end.
Valentine’s Day is only a few days away when we champion love in its most romantic forms. However, the “Day of Love” often creates tension as people either feel rejected, forgotten, or confounded by the practices of love. The Day will cause many others to bemoan that “Love Stinks.” And yes, from a purely humanistic point of view, love can be painful. And the deeper the love, the more pain it can cause.
Our example of Jesus experienced the most painful display of love. But hopefully, that doesn’t make you give up on love. That would be the easy way out. It would be easiest to escape to a remote cabin and disappear from a world filled with not-so-good people. However, that would contradict the message of the cross and the good news it brings. Therefore, we love the unlovable even when it stinks- becoming a beautifully fragrant aroma not to ourselves but for God.
Ephesians 5:1-2 – “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; 2 and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”
Love has a smell, but it definitely does not stink.

Thick and Thin

In high school, I loved participating in track and field. For me, there was nothing better than feeling the air move past me at an accelerated pace. I enjoyed the excitement of a track meet. It was your opportunity to see where you stacked up against your competitors. I loved the idea of giving my best effort and that feeling of accomplishment. However, I was not too fond of the early-season preparation. I might be “old school,” but I know two main ways to get faster on race day: running up hills and training for endurance. If you combine those two elements, most runners will improve their race time at least marginally.
Near the practice track, there was a hill that was about 1000 feet long with a 10% grade, the “9th St Hill.” Our coach would set a timer, and your responsibility was to see how many hills you could do in 30 minutes. You could walk, jog, or sprint. But only one of those will get the results that you want. Some people would sprint one hill and walk the rest, others would lazily jog, and others would push themselves and endure the hardship, aiming to improve themselves as they prepared for race day. Some were running with a more noble motivation. They are not practicing simply because it is a requirement from the coach but because it will help them succeed in the long run (pun intended).  
In the last blog, we reflected on Paul’s message to the church in Corinth regarding “true ministers.” I did not know how accurate these verses were until 2023. However, some pearls of wisdom can encourage us and give us insight into our various ministries. 
2 Corinthians 6:4-5 – “In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind. 5 We have been beaten, been put in prison, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food.”
The term minister has taken on a connotation of its own. It used to refer to someone who was an agent of some service or person. A minister could be someone dispensing care to another individual. However, it most commonly began to refer to an individual who was an agent on behalf of religion. Eventually, the term became a job title and not just a description of someone’s actions. The root word in this passage refers to someone who is a servant.
Therefore, in this passage, Paul refers to the “true servants” of God. You could also look at this as the opposite of a false minister, or rather one who administers with false pretenses or motives. Consequently, let’s note what Paul says is a marker of a true minister. 
A faithful minister is someone who does not quit. Paul strengthens this as he states they patiently endure. They could give up or find a different path, but instead, they patiently endure. To remain steadfast in the face of affliction. You could stop, and many do, but it is those who keep going that show where their strength comes from. Paul even references those things that make other people quit—everything ranging from beatings at the hands of an angry mob to sleepless nights. Yet, the important thing is to keep going. We should view this concept in light of Jesus’ words in John 10.  
John 10:11-14 – “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. 12 “He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters the flock. 13 “He flees because he is a hired hand and does not care about the sheep. 14 “I am the good shepherd, and I know My own, and My own know Me,”
Some “minsters” are only there for the paycheck. Some will quit the moment someone disagrees with them or makes them lose sleep. Some will not endure a hangnail, let alone actual hardships. Staying or running is what separates the real from the counterfeit. Jesus says that merely seeing a wolf will cause some to run away. My encouragement to you is to stick it out. When troubles come your way, when you serve others, don’t run away when things get messy or complicated. Stay with that person. They will recognize you as someone who actually cares, a true minister who will stick with them through Thick and Thin. 

Hold Their Hands

I love my sons equally. In my heart, there is no distinction between them, but they have vastly different personalities and abilities. One of my sons is clumsy, a king of klutz, a professional of pratfalls. He could trip over a breeze. I am the opposite; I have the skill of a mountain goat, skittering across rocks. It is rare for me to hit the ground, and my son practically lives on the floor. And do you know what I do? I hold his hand. Yep, because if he falls, and I know he will, I want to be there to keep him from getting hurt or stumbling. If I can walk in such a way that helps him keep his balance, I will do that.  
As I began to unpack the totality of ministry, there was a passage that hit close to home. It made me pause because of the gravity of the section. Paul is writing his second (possibly third) letter to the church in Corinth. He is establishing the genuineness of his heart and the authenticity of his message. Yet, in this passage, he states the hallmarks of a “true minister.” I don’t believe that a person must undergo each of these situations; however, we should all prepare to have them present in their lives. He also provides a template for how ministers should behave, which we can all apply to our behaviors.
2 Corinthians 6:3-10 NLT – “We live in such a way that no one will stumble because of us, and no one will find fault with our ministry. 4 In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind. 5 We have been beaten, been put in prison, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food. 6 We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love. 7 We faithfully preach the truth. God’s power is working in us. We use the weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left hand for defense. 8 We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us. We are honest, but they call us impostors. 9 We are ignored, even though we are well known. We live close to death, but we are still alive. We have been beaten, but we have not been killed. 10 Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything.”
There is no doubt that Paul and his companions endured more trials than I pray I will ever need to face. Verse five is enough to make any devout follower of Christ pause momentarily. Yet we see the sincerity of God’s intentions lived out in the life of Paul as he brings good news to anyone who will listen.
Paul states that he will live in such a way that “no one will stumble because of us, and no one will find fault with our ministry.” Living in this manner is a tall order. Paul took his ministry very seriously, and we often want to toe the line and find ways to be “friends with the world” (James 4:4). Paul’s goal was to live in such a way that others would be drawn closer to God because of his actions; even if it meant that he would suffer. Now, keep in mind that this is not asceticism, a mere outward showing of religiousness, but a desire to show the sincerity of his heart.
Some people have different aptitudes for balance and stability. My son is a prime example. However, if I chose to walk haphazardly through life, I would not benefit him. If I am aware of his penchant for falling but walk in such a way as to make him stumble more, what kind of parent would I be? I walk in such a way so that he won’t fall. Last week, we had a terrible ice storm. Did I walk next to him and chaotically and frantically flail? Or did I watch my footing a little more firmly? As a good example, I made my steps as sure as possible, not adding confusion to his life. Steady footsteps, walking in the light, and staying on the pathway are other great ways to minister to others.
As we minister, we should walk as steadily as possible so they won’t fall. We all can show others what a stable foundation provides. They can see the stability of our actions and choose not to live a life of slips and falls, instead planting their feet on a solid rock. We don’t live this way to shame or degrade them but to be an example. But this is most effective when engaging in their lives…when we Hold Their Hands.               


In my youth ministry days, I firmly believed in a tactic called “Event-Based Ministry.” The basic premise of the concept is that you create an event, invite youth to that event, and then connect/minister to them while they are there. There can be some detriments to orchestrating these events; they require a lot of intentionality and purposefulness. For instance, if you fail to incorporate the last two steps of invitation or connection (with connection being the most crucial part), it becomes like any secular event (birthday party, soccer game, video game night). However, if you are finding ways to invite and connect, a youth event becomes a place that creates its own atmosphere. An atmosphere that deepens relationships and allows for spiritual conversations.
Event-based ministry can get a bad reputation; frequently, it is used only for two metrics: numbers and “fun.” Neither of these is evil, but if it is your only justification for having an event, we need to discuss motives. Throughout his life, Jesus attended mealtime gatherings (events) with the purpose of furthering his ministry. Therefore, the event is not bad, but there needs to be a reason for it; we need to be intentional about why we are engaging with others around us.
As I prepared for these events, someone would invariably ask, “What happens if only one person shows up?” My response was always the same, “That would be awesome!” If only one person showed up, I would have more 1-on-1 time with that individual. I could connect with them in ways that built them up personally because the purpose wasn’t to have the largest youth group but to bring others to Christ. And I knew that this happens best in individual interactions.
However, that never happened; I have never had only one person attend any event. But that never changed my mentality. Because whether there were one or a thousand (which also never happened), my purpose was to connect to others and bring them closer to Jesus.
Every week, we all attend an event, our Sunday morning worship assembly; our question should be, “Who can I connect with and bring them closer to Jesus?” This profoundly personal thought process requires thinking about one person at a time. We bring others closer to Jesus in various ways; we can do it through praying with them, serving them, encouraging them, listening to them, and perhaps even smiling at them to let them know they are not alone. Generating this connection is Jesus’ desire for each of us. Whether it is one person or a million, there has to be something that will draw the world to God, and Jesus indicates it is our unity.
John 17:21-26 – “I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one–as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. 22 “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. 23 I am in them, and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. 24 Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began! 25 “O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know you, but I do; and these disciples know you sent me. 26 I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them.”
Whenever we gather, it should be to demonstrate “perfect unity.” It will be our distinction from the rest of the world. This notion of unity becomes muddied when we look at the varying fractions within the Christian community. Still, for our fellowship on a weekly basis, people should walk in to see that this is a unified group. And this happens when we are all seeking to show others Christ on a personal level. We accomplish this when we interact 1-on-1.

Practice Makes Perfect

Practice Makes Perfect
One aspect of the church that has always intrigued me is that it is a mixture of people from various walks of life. When I consider the question, “What do ministers do?” I must acknowledge this part of the job. For youngsters, being in a youth group meant being a part of a group of people that was often different from you. They’re not your typical friend group, family members, or sports club. These groups are often incentivized to belong together, with common goals like grades, winning games, or being related/surviving. A church is a group of people united under different intentions. This distinction becomes a crucial element of faith-building; two key aspects mentioned this best.
We don’t know how to love others as well as we should; love takes practice and diligence. In other words, you need a place to learn how to love others. I’ve met many 90-year-olds who haven’t learned how to love others. Therefore, there needs to be a space where we learn how to love in a community filled with grace and authenticity. This is among the most inspiring parts of the Christian faith and Jesus’ instructions. He states that the world will know us because of how we love each other and reflexively love those in the world. A youth group is a microcosm of that environment called church-ekklesia- “The Called Out.”
John 15:12-13 ESV “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. …17 These things I command you so that you will love one another.”
Love others the way that Jesus loved us… simple right? But we all know that this is a challenging thing to do. So, we need a place to learn how to lay our lives down for those around us. It is where we can put others above ourselves and meet their needs while we set ours aside. Remind yourselves that this is a commandment; it’s not optional. It is what Jesus wants, and we should find a way to enact it in our lives. Jesus says when this becomes evident in our lives, the world will recognize us as his disciples.
Therefore, we need a place to learn how to love; if we say we love God but do not love others, we only fool ourselves. John says as much in his first letter.
1 John 4:19-21 “We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
To love others in this manner is what I believe God intended the church to be; when I reflect on what ministry is, it is creating a place and environment where we can learn to love each other in a grace-filled and authentic way. Even when we mess up, and sometimes we mess up big, there must be a place to learn how to show grace and love. And that is precisely what we should be doing. Loving in this manner happens not only on a Sunday morning but every time the body meets together. Whether that is for coffee, sitting at a ball game, men’s dinners, or wherever it may be, learning how to love each other. And I mean really “love” each other, “lay-our-lives-down-for-each-other” kind of love. So that we can better love those around us and emulate the love that God has for us; this is ministry when Practice Makes Perfect.
So, what are you doing to love those within the body of Christ? I used to remind teens that no one can love you if you’re not here, and you can’t love anyone if you’re not here.
I close with two quotes from Martin Luther King Jr. on what would have been his 95 birthday.
· “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.”
· “The beauty of genuine brotherhood and peace is more precious than diamonds or silver or gold.”

Remind, Rejoice, Safeguard

A couple of years ago, I embarked on a new direction in my career. I was considering transitioning from ministering to youth to working with all ages within a congregation. The change would not be difficult; I’ve always enjoyed working alongside every demographic. I like to say, “I’m an equal opportunity hugger.” However, before I made this transition, I wanted a better grasp of what a minister does. I asked around to those who had many more decades of ministry than I had. I sought advice on what ministry is and what it should be. The main question I asked was, “What do ministers do?”
For the next couple of blog posts, I want to wrestle with these thoughts, and perhaps it will give us insight into what a church is as I consider how we can better minister to others.
As a youth minister, one of my primary roles was to give young people a place to strengthen their faith; this process is multifaceted. We should strive to create a suitable learning environment that is also engaging and exciting for young people to attend. I’ve always adhered to the principle that “Passion is Contagious.” If you believe in something and are excited about it, everyone else will respond positively to the enthusiasm. I can’t emphasize this enough when you are working with catatonic teenagers. 
I also knew that a youth group was an excellent place for a young person to wrestle with their emerging faith. Young people have a lot of questions and are primarily skeptical about everything. They have grown out of their childhood, when they accepted most ideas at face value. But as they grow into adolescence, they begin to challenge everything and everyone, especially their parents. Therefore, one of my responsibilities was to allow for questions and reinforce God’s Word as the foundation for our lives.
Paul gives us insight into these ideas and writes to the church in Philippi. He explains the superior nature of Christ and that eventually “every knee will bow” (Philippians 2:10). He moves on to discuss the pressing on to the upward call (Philippians 3:14). Yet in the middle of these two points, we read this verse.  
Philippians 3:1 – “Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble for me, and it is a safeguard for you.”
Paul asserts that he is okay with reminding them about the Good News of Jesus. He knows that this is what every Christian should be excited to hear about over and over. We should share in this mentality; we should also never feel inconvenienced in hearing, saying, and living the same messages over and over again. Paul was happy to write the same instructions and to live out the example that Jesus provided. It was not bothersome, but he saw purpose to it. 
He described two purposes in this verse; the first is that it should produce joy in our lives. He encourages them to “Rejoice in the Lord.” To joyfully engage in who Jesus is and what he has done for us. It is not something that grows old but provokes and motivates us toward enthusiasm and passion. 
He also said that he is not troubled to write these things because they safeguard the church in Philippi. This word, translated as “safeguard,” has a beautiful meaning. 
ἀσφαλής a’sphalḗs- firm (that which can be relied on), certain, true, suited to confirm, safeguard. 
Imagine a guardrail that keeps you on the road. Paul doesn’t have a problem writing the same things repeatedly because it keeps them going in the right direction. It keeps them from crashing on the twists and turns of life. It confirms their faith, and it is something that can be relied upon. 
This is a healthy environment for a church to foster, regardless of age group or demographic. We want to cultivate a family passionate about gathering together that will be reminded of Jesus constantly and, when we start to drive off the road, will be there to remind us of what is the “straight and narrow.” So, what do ministers do? And we are all ministers, our purpose is to Remind, Rejoice, and Safeguard.

Jesus, Lord at Thy Birth

The Gospel is hard news, but it will always be good news. 
I love Christmas. I love this time of year. There is an element that is missing for the rest of the year. People may say it is just another day, but that assertion does not fool me. This time of year adds more harmony and “Joy to the World.” A great miracle of hope surrounds this most “Wonderful Time of the Year.” There are images of families gathered around presents, comfort foods consumed by the handful, and songs of merriment flowing from our radios.
However, sadly, there is another element that creeps through this season: there are some people who identify more with the Grinch than Bob Cratchit. They are tired of people (in general) and the hullabaloo of the day, and they believe that the celebration is “noise, noise, noise, noise.” They’d rather be miserly than engage in the delight of the day. They see other people as a blight on the world and think it would be better if they occupied this planet alone. Glaring down from Mt. Crumpit, frustrated in shuffling and bustling below. 
It is because, on the most basic and fundamental level, there is a juxtaposition of the idea of Christmas. On one hand, we love the notion of God coming to earth as a human, born of a virgin, and angels rejoicing—we love the thought of Emmanuel. God coming to earth places us on a pedestal, elevated for our own glory that God would put on flesh, living and walking amongst us. We don’t like to think “Why” God had to come down from heaven in the first place. 
We love the birth of the Savior, but we prefer not to think about the implications of needing a savior. The only reason we need a savior is because we all need rescuing from our sins. This concept for many people is offensive; we want others to see us as good, warm-hearted, gift-giving people (the Christmas spirit), but in reality, we are rotten, cold-hearted Scrooges. They effectively believe, “I’m perfect, and everyone else is the problem.” The Grinch, in his seclusion, and Scrooge, engulfed in money… are shielding themselves from the other people in the world. 
We love to think about the idea of the Prince of Peace-
Isaiah 9:6 – “For a Child will be born to us, a Son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”
But we don’t like to think about how that peace was achieved. 
Colossians 1:19-20 – “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, 20 and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.”
And that is the perplexity of Christmas and the Crucifixion. You can’t have one without the other; the wonderful part for me is that I can celebrate them both. In fact, I can more fully appreciate the meaning of Christmas because I know that I have a Savior-
“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1-2). 
It is not only I who has a Savior, but the entire world, and this keeps me from being a Grinchy-Scrooge. I see the joy brought to every man, woman, and child because of the graciousness of God. When I hear the words of “Silent Night,” I know that these words hold more value to me than those who don’t know the full extent of that message. 

“Christ the Savior is born
Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth.”

Footsteps Have Trod

“Good King Wenceslas” is one of my favorite Christmas season poems to read. John Mason Neale wrote it in 1853 about a Duke in Bohemia (Czech Republic) named Wenceslas (907–935). History can be deceptive, and we often find out our heroes are the villains, but in this snippet from history, Wenceslas was actually a good person, not a perfect person, but a good person. As history tells it, Wenceslas was raised in Christianity by his grandparents, although much of the region was still deeply pagan, including his mother and brother. However, for Wenceslas, he attempted to entrench Christian faith and practices in the area. Noblemen and his brother eventually assassinated Wenceslas because he had signed a treaty with two other regions requiring significant tributes from the noblemen’s pockets.
Yet, what is most known about Wenceslas was written by ancient historian Cosmas of Prague, stating,
“But his deeds I think you know better than I could tell you; for, as is read in his Passion, no one doubts that, rising every night from his noble bed, with bare feet and only one chamberlain, he went around to God’s churches and gave alms generously to widows, orphans, those in prison and afflicted by every difficulty, so much so that he was considered, not a prince, but the father of all the wretched.”
These tales are where the carol comes from: a man from the highest position in his region, walking through the streets enduring all conditions to give generously to the most vulnerable populations. It is no wonder that he has been revered and recognized as an example we should aspire to.
In the last few weeks, we have discussed what it means to be “Last” regarding our possessions and relationships. Yet, we fall short because we desire reciprocity of some kind; we would like our undertakings to have some payout for us. For this reason, Jesus informs his followers that we aren’t to live like this. He says don’t do good only for the people who can return the favor; do good because God desires it.
Matthew 6:2-4 – “So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, so that they will be praised by people. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward in full. 3 “But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your charitable giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”
Luke 14:13-14 – “But whenever you give a banquet, invite people who are poor, who have disabilities, who are limping, and people who are blind; 14 and you will be blessed since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Conventional wisdom points to this as well, as Solomon advises his readers.
Proverbs 19:17 “One who is gracious to a poor person lends to the LORD, And He will repay him for his good deed.”
We do things not because we wish to receive compensation from those we are blessing but merely because God desires it, and He is the one that rewards us. The poem of Good King Wenceslas ends with these two refrains. Let’s consider them together.
‘Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind blows stronger;
Fails my heart, I know not how,
I can go no longer.’
‘Mark my footsteps, good my page,
Tread thou in them boldly:
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly.’
In his master’s steps he trod,
Where the snow lay dented;
Heat was in the very sod
Which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.
As Wenceslas and his servant go through the snow to help a “poor man” whom they spot gathering firewood, the page believes he can’t continue walking in the snow. Then, Wenceslas tells him to follow him, and he will block the wind. The servant can walk in his footsteps, avoiding trudging through the snow himself. In a mythologized recounting of events, we see the song’s point: an individual of high stature was willing to serve not only the impoverished of the region but was also ready to make the journey easier on his servant. The servant that should be serving was served by the master. And this is the point of Christianity: we should be the ones serving and attending to Christ, yet he was the one that marked the way and has served all of us… therefore, we follow where his Footsteps Have Trod.
Matthew 16:24-27 – “Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26 “For what good will it do a person if he gains the whole world, but forfeits his soul? Or what will a person give in exchange for his soul? 27 “For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and WILL THEN REPAY EVERY PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS.”

For the full poem, check it out Here

For my favorite rendition of “Good King Wenceslas” listen to it here by Rend Collective

Silent Night

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


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

Bowl of Soup

Bowl of Soup

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

In a Minute, but Not Yet…

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

Me on His Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Trust You, Use Me

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

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

“I AM with you”

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

Part of the Process

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Power Move

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


Carry Forever

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

Passing Through

Passing Through

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

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

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