It’s Too Hard

Blog 5.9.2022

It’s Too Hard

Theo and Cooper are testing Amanda’s and my patience lately. They have been pushing their limits in every available direction. Testing boundaries and seeing what they can get away with before crossing that imaginary line of parental longsuffering. In the midst of this independence extravaganza, they also imagine new stall tactics to keep from doing things that they don’t find enjoyable. Things like naps, putting on shoes, or brushing teeth are met with the same hesitancy and reluctance. However, instead of saying they don’t want to do something, they loudly exclaim, “It’s too hard!” Refusing to do whatever the suggested task is. It is difficult to explain to a 4 and 3-year-old that just because something is hard does not mean you don’t have to do it. Cooper has taken this defiance to a whole new level lately. He now says the often decreed “It’s too hard” even with pleasurable activities. Example script below.

Mom/Dad: Cooper, you need to eat your cake before you can have ice cream.

 Cooper: It’s too hard. The cake is hard. Eating is hard. (Begins to wail loudly) 

It would be beyond comical if it weren’t so frustrating and feel free to laugh at our circumstance. I’m sure that we can all resonate with the notion that life is hard. Cooper is not wrong. Even the most pleasurable things in life can be difficult. Very few people are granted the opportunity to grow up and live on Easy Street. In Romans 5:3-4, Paul correlates that without suffering, you lack character, and perhaps you have met those individuals that lack those character-building conditions. Therefore, even the best things in life must be worked for beforehand to enjoy them later. However, as we mature and grow, we realize that many things require hard work for them to become a reality in our lives. We recognize that there is a trade-off, the difficult for the pleasurable. It calls to my mind the example of Christ and the challenge issued by the writer of Hebrews. 

Hebrews 12:1-4 

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”

The writer of Hebrews acknowledges that our race is brutal. He just finished the chapter recounting all of the challenging circumstances that people of faith have been enduring since the beginning of time. God asks those who follow him to do really demanding tasks all of the time. God places their comfort, livelihood, and even their lives in the balance time and time again. This is not an ideal covered up in the scriptures. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he made statements like, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58), and “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). Each one of these statements is full of hardship and difficulty. And to think that Jesus’ earthly life, so full of adversity, ended with death on a cross. Framed in this light, it almost makes the challenge of following Christ too much to bear. However, the passage in Hebrews gives us hope. Jesus did all of this not for his own advantage but for all of those who will follow him. Jesus endured the shame, the cross, and the hostility of the world so that we might not grow weary and give up. Jesus also had a much different end in mind. His end was not solely his accomplishments on earth but returning to the throne room of God. This should also change our perspective so that when life becomes impossible to bear, when we want to cry out, “It’s too hard!” We adjust our mindset, setting our focus and thoughts on Jesus and running the race set before us. 

Without Limits

Blog 5.3.2022

Without Limits

We had some additional concrete poured for our front driveway and back patio this last week. We simply wanted to have a little more space to drive and walk across. It was a relatively quick and straightforward process; one day to prepare the area and another day to pour the concrete. However, once you pour the cement, a few more guidelines need to be followed. It takes at least 24 hours for the concrete to be strong enough to walk on. The common thought is that the longer you wait, the better it will be; the full curing process takes about 28 days, but you can drive on the surface after one week. Hard materials will scratch the surface during the first 72 hours, so things like dog nails and most toys should be kept off the new cement for at least that time. Having small children made this some of the most nerve-wracking 72 hours of my life. Each of our boys wanted to see and touch the new material, and in their thinking, concrete is hard right? How hard is it? When will it be strong enough for me to walk on it? Can I scratch it? It was exhausting. Making a kid stay away from what appears to be an invisible barrier is almost impossible, and it made me think of something that I had never connected before. 

In the book of Exodus, God instructs the people not to approach Mt Sinai. 

Exodus 19:10-13 

“And the LORD said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes 11 and be ready by the third day, because on that day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12 Put limits for the people around the mountain and tell them, ‘Be careful that you do not approach the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain is to be put to death. 13 They are to be stoned or shot with arrows; not a hand is to be laid on them. No person or animal shall be permitted to live.’ Only when the ram’s horn sounds a long blast may they approach the mountain.”

“Be close but not too close.” I have always read that sentiment from the mindset of a mature adult. But now that I am a parent, this is a terrifying thought. I have a hard time wrangling my children in an unrestricted park or a newly poured patio. I can’t imagine what it would be like to keep my boys from wandering toward the foot of a rattling, shaking mountain. For Milo, it would be like a moth to a flame, drawing closer and closer to an impressive display of God’s magnificence. And now I have to be worried about someone shooting them with arrows! It is enough to turn all of my hairs gray. 

In an instance like this, you could imagine the complexity of remaining in the Israelite camp. And many people still feel this way today. How do we draw close to God and maintain the reverence He deserves? How do we approach the foot of the mountain without breaking the limits in place? For a parent, it sometimes seems like these are constantly opposing positions. Children, boundaries, and reverence rarely go hand-in-hand with a four-year-old. And that is why one of the most liberating passages comes in Matthew 19.

Matthew 19:13-14 
“Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. 14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Jesus is not an unapproachable mountain. On the contrary, he is a welcoming Servant King. He has not placed a boundary on his availability or accessibility. Instead, he allows everyone to approach and be changed by him. He is a Savior without limits. 

Stop Comparing and Competing

Blog 4.25.22

Stop Comparing and Competing

Everything with Theo nowadays is comparison and competition. He’s just trying to organize and order his world, but I am often caught in the crosshairs of his comparisons. Last week, he told me, you look good, but I look better than you! That hurt a little, but I understand what he said, and I don’t disagree. At the time, he did look better than me. We love to reduce people to simple factors and label them into neat categories. For Theo, there are several categories that you can fall into Goliath, Paul Bunyan, or Dad. And just to be clear, I am not at the top of the spectrum in any category. I also recognize how this need for comparison and competition is based on maturity. Yet how often do we get caught up in our own comparisons, maybe not out loud but internally? 

We love to do this with the worthiness of God’s grace and sin. This person is more worthy of God’s grace because they are a “good” person. Or this person is “hopeless” because they have failed too many times. When we make statements like this, we compare sins and compete for God’s grace. Thankfully this is not how the gospel works. 

In Luke chapter 8, we read a snippet about Jesus’ ministry as we read:

Luke 8:1-3 
Soon afterward, he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.

For many, when they hear the backstory of someone like Mary of Magdalene, they think nothing of it. But here was a woman that was absolutely tortured in her life. Many would consider being possessed by one demon too far gone, unapproachable, untouchable. If one demon was horrific, then certainly seven would be catastrophic. However, Luke records this as a byline to the more remarkable story. Jesus made it part of his routine to approach the unapproachable and touch the untouchable. For Mary, these actions were anything but routine; they were transformative and unimaginable. 

That is the thing about sin and grace. One sin is too many, and grace is unearned. For young Theo, it is easy to compare and compete for every aspect of our standings—who is taller, faster, stronger? However, these metrics are of little value when we consider the comparison of sin. Because not even one corruption could never be tolerated—and we could never pay for the debt that would be owed for one sin. That is why we all fall short. 

These are elementary principles for us who stand on the other side of grace. However, our challenge is to stop seeing those around us as who they are or who they once were. It would be easy to label Mary as the “demon-possessed” woman and never consider the life that was changed by Jesus. But that is not who she became, and Jesus saw every facet of her life, just like he sees every aspect of our lives. Can you imagine the disciples when they saw Mary coming? They would have categorized her as a lost cause and avoided her altogether. Jesus instead saw her despite the outward appearance or inner turmoil. We have to challenge ourselves to see people in the same way. 

And for some, we have to change the way we view ourselves. Perhaps we see ourselves as having “fewer” sins than those around us. Newsflash, it doesn’t matter you are still dependent on grace. Or maybe we have labeled ourselves too far gone or untouchable in some areas of our lives. Regardless of how you view yourself, we are all dependent on the grace that God freely gave to each one of us through His Son. 

Romans 5:15 
But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.

If we change our perspective, we can change how we interact with the world. I think of the change that came about in Mary’s life. It’s funny how things turn out; for Mary, Jesus was the first person to see her for who she truly was, and in turn, Mary was the first to see the resurrected Jesus. 

John 20:14-18 
“Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”–and that he had said these things to her.

I pray we can see ourselves for who we really are, others for who they really are, and God’s grace for what it really is. If we can do this, we can stop comparing and competing. 

You Can Smile At Death

Blog 4.18.2022

Can you Smile at Death?

There was a man that went to our church in Albuquerque. Although he and his wife were advanced in years (their late 80s), he always wanted his spouse to pass before him. His reasoning was that he was the caregiver, and she needed him, so if he passed away before her, who would take care of her? However, anyone who knew him knew that his wife was his whole world, and if she passed away, he would be an emotional wreck. Two weeks ago, he made the difficult decision to place his wife in in-home hospice care, knowing that the end was near for her. She was barely consuming anything to sustain her life, which indicates that their time on earth has come. Meanwhile, he was in relatively good health; although no one is a picture of health at their age of life, he was better than most. Yet, with all of these plans and medical provisions, He passed away yesterday morning before his wife. 

I share this story to illustrate a well-recognized truth about life, that the best-laid plans rarely work out the way that we would like. We can apply logic, well-wishes, and moral reasoning to our intentions and aspirations; however, that does not mean things will go the way we want them to. And frankly, the events that happen at the end of our time on earth are the most tentative and uncertain plans anyone could ever make. 

Two quotes always spring to mind when I think of my own mortality, and surprisingly they come from stoic philosopher and Emperor of Rome Marcus Aurelius (121 – 180 A.D.).  

“Death smiles at us all, all a man can do is smile back.”

― Marcus Aurelius

“Do not act as if you were going to live ten thousand years. Death hangs over you. While you live, while it is in your power, be good.”

― Marcus Aurelius

There are hidden pieces of truth in both of these statements, especially concerning how we approach both life and death. From a purely secular mindset, death is always imminent and something to be present in our minds. This also holds weight from a Biblical standpoint as James writes his book of truth and Christ-centered insights. 

James 4:13-17 

 “Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” 

No day is guaranteed, and to imagine that even tomorrow is promised to us is reckless. All that anyone of us has is what we are currently experiencing. That is a hard reality to digest, but it is reality nonetheless. I would like to imagine that I have 60 more years of life or that I will experience significant milestones for my children, like graduations, marriages, grandchildren, etc., but that is not guaranteed. And there is nothing I can do to secure it. So what matters is what I am doing with my time each day. 

However, for the Christian, we have the promises of God to give us hope. This allows us to truly “smile at death.”

1 John 2:25 – “And this is what he promised us–eternal life.”

Titus 1:2 – “in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time”

1 John 5:11-13 – “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”

Eternal life is the catalyst for truly living. Without the promise of eternal life, you are constantly hedging your life to protect it from calamities or dangers. Sometimes people even shield themselves from everyday activities because of the fear of possibly dying. For the Christ-follower, we welcome the translation from one life to the next; we anticipate the promises of God and fully enjoy and thrive in our everyday lives. 

I think of all the intentions people have as they approach the end of their lives. We would like things to go just the way we plan. We attempt to control even the most restricted and unpredictable portions of our existence, and if we focus on it too much, it would be maddening. Thankfully God has taken that burden away from us. Instead, God simply gives us the permission and ability to live good lives and not worry about the intricacies of dying. Leaving the most important and pertinent matter being, as John puts it, “Whoever has the Son has life.” And if you have the Son, you can definitely smile whenever death finally approaches. 

Whiter Than Snow

Blog 4.11.2022

Whiter than Snow

Springtime is always a great time for renewal. The passing from one season to another and the freshness of Spring and the newness it can bring. We incorporate this theme into our lives with elements like “spring cleaning” and taking the old cobwebs accumulated from a time of inactivity. Then, we begin to anticipate the warmer weather and its opportunities. We love the promise of Spring, but Spring is not summer… Spring can turn back to winter in an instant. It can be 75 degrees one day and 35 the next. So, as we think about renewal and change for warmer weather, we are guarded against the realities of colder mornings and snow in April. That is why when we woke up to snow on Monday, April 11, 2022, it was shocking but not completely unexpected. Because we know that Spring is not summer, and real change hasn’t happened yet.

I think we can attempt to live the same ways in our spiritual lives. And, frequently go from seasons of inactivity or even in detrimental ways and think we can simply dust off the cobwebs and get back to a healthy spiritual life. Or even worse, we just cover up our bad habits and negative emotions with other junk, not willing to make any real change in our lives. This is why David’s poem recorded in Psalm 51 is so insightful and relevant.

Psalm 51:1-19 “For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.
5 Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
6 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you.
14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, you who are God my Savior, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.
 18 May it please you to prosper Zion, to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous, in burnt offerings offered whole; then bulls will be offered on your altar.”

David knows that his sins and his iniquities run deep. They are not merely surface-level problems. In dramatic hyperbole, he states that they have been there from birth. David knows that he is utterly sinful; he recognizes that the ordeal with Bathsheba was rooted deep within his flaws of being a human. He does not make excuses and blame the situation; he places the blame and responsibility for his wrongdoing squarely on his shoulders.

However, what really strikes me is what we read in verse seven, David wants to be purified and made whiter than snow. Not simply covered with snow or made to appear holy and righteous, but to actually be righteous. This act of being made whiter than snow is the work of God in the life of David, not in David’s ability and actions. In this psalm, God is the one that is restoring, cleaning, creating a new heart, and renewing real change in David’s life. This isn’t just a superficial dusting but effective and real change.

Then when David is restored and renewed, he will show the goodness of God. He will teach others about the mercy and grace found in God, making him new. This brings up the thought that telling others about the goodness of God is impossible if it is dependent on our abilities or my original sinlessness. It understands that we are all sinners and that God has renewed each of us. God didn’t just cover up our sins but completely removed them, paying for them with the blood of His Son. We don’t just have a dusting of springtime snow, but we have been made white like snow.

What we see displayed in this psalm is not a surface-level change. It is not a quickly melting shallow faith. Still, it recognizes the sinfulness that we all have and rejoices not in our abilities but in God’s goodness and grace. Now he is whiter than snow.

Refresh Your Soul

Blog 4.4.2021        

Refresh Your Soul

It has only taken a year, but yesterday, I broke the cardinal rule of preaching and scriptural exposition. My preparation and notes got the best of me, and I spoke too long. Because of this fact, I heard more complaints not about the content of the message but because of the length. No one said it to me personally, but the comments made their way back to me nonetheless. I do not want to sound critical of the critique; that negative cycle does nothing for the health of a church and personal relationships. However, I also know that the appraisal is valid and justifiable; the average person’s attention span is only 18 minutes. Therefore, I try to cap all of my sermons at that minute mark. Yesterday’s lesson was roughly double that… it was a massive violation.

I have mixed feelings when it comes to this topic. On one side, I want to be courteous to everyone’s time on a Sunday morning. On the other side, I think, “Why do we gather on Sunday if not to study God’s Word?” However, I realize that this questioning is rooted in my pride, rearing its ugly head. The truth is there are many reasons why we gather on Sundays, and far down on the list is hearing my simple homilies. We gather to commune, praise, and mutually partake in the Lord’s Supper; yes, we are also to devote ourselves to the apostle’s teaching and the word of God. “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13). This is, of course, how the body is built up through teaching and instruction.

Consequently, when I hear people murmuring about the length of a lesson, I can’t help but wonder about their own spiritual health; where do they need to be built up? So, for a brief moment, let’s compare ourselves to David, the “man after God’s heart,” and see if we measure up to the model he presented.

Psalm 19:7-14
“The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. 8 The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. 9 The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The decrees of the LORD are firm, and all of them are righteous. 10 They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey than honey from the honeycomb. 11 By them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward. 12 But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. 13 Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression. 14 May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.”

We can all see the delight that David has for God’s word. There are several things mentioned in this passage that our world desperately needs to hear. Many pressures are crushing us daily. The demands and weight of the world around us are overwhelming, and it is easy to feel defeated in every aspect of our lives. This is why we need the word of God, not just on a Sunday morning but every day of our lives. Look how the word sustains us. It refreshes our souls, gives us wisdom, brings joy to our hearts, brightens our eyes, and warns us of danger.

There are two things listed here that we should pay special attention to; the psalmist states that it gives us insight into our own faults. This is essential in our lives today. In a world that throws blame at us continually, we need direction to know areas in our lives that we need to address. The Bible does not care if I am famous, successful, tall, short, thin, or thick. The Bible is concerned with the inner person and if I love God and His word. God’s word is the great equalizer; whether you are a lowly shepherd or a king in a palace, the Bible sees you for who you really are, which should bring us great comfort. The second point is that David says it is sweeter than honey and more precious than gold. It is pleasing and appetizing; it leaves you wanting more. No one reasonably thinks, “I have too much gold; no more gold please!” This should be our attitude to hearing or reading scripture. We should desire it more and more and more!

The attributes that the Bible brings to us are the same things that keep us from picking up God’s word. When our souls are exhausted, we are too exhausted to read the wisdom. When our hearts are in despair, we won’t open the cover. When our eyes have grown dim, stop seeking the light. Combat the darkness within all of us, refresh your soul, and joyfully anticipate how God’s word will bring you new life.

Rise and Walk

Blog 3.28.2022          

Rise and Walk

It takes a newborn wildebeest less than 15 minutes to fully stand and be able to run after it is born… what a remarkable feat! That is primarily because that is the pace in the animal world… an animal needs to be able to run and move, or it will be lunch for someone else. The consequences are indeed life or death if a baby wildebeest doesn’t have or can’t acquire that skill of moving and walking. The fate of the herd rests on this ability. The herd must be able to move in case of danger, and there is little room for pausing to reflect on the miracle of life.

Meanwhile, humans take a lot longer to master the skills of running and locomotion, and by watching my boys mature, this developmental process is an observable fact. In comparison, human children are not equipped to be born and suddenly run and move. We were not designed for this, and our maturity in this period of life is more suited to gathering information with our big brains than just reacting to a world based on instinct. However, there are times when we are perhaps too cautious; we become paralyzed by the myriad of choices and are reluctant to move at all. 

Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he would often heal those with debilitating conditions. These people we consigned to a life of immobility and stagnation. All that they desired was the ability to move. One narrative captures this well, giving us something else to ponder. 

Luke 5:18-26 
“And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, 19 but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. 20 And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” 21 And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 22 When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? 23 Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? 24 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” –he said to the man who was paralyzed–“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” 25 And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. 26 And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.”

Wrapped up in this fantastic display of Jesus’ power, the power not only to heal but to also forgive sin, is this paralyzed man. We often highlight the faith of this man’s friends who cut a hole in the roof and lowered their friend to the ground. However, the man’s faith is remarkable too. Jesus utters those fateful words, “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And this paralyzed man immediately picks up the mat that he had been lying on and leaves. This man gets on with living. He doesn’t question Jesus’ authority like the Pharisees did. He doesn’t ponder if he will be able to stand or argue that it is a medical improbability. Instead, this now healed man rises to his feet and goes home. All the while, he is glorifying God with his newfound mobility. 

For many of us, we have never had to think about how terrible life would be if we were immobile. It is such a foreign concept it doesn’t even cross our minds. We take it for granted, and even when we are hobbled for any amount of time, we think more about our pain than about our ability to continue moving around. Yet, in this narrative, a man has seen both sides and is overjoyed at what has transpired. The more liberating part and something that we should identify with is that this man’s sins were also forgiven. That is the more significant miracle; this is the part that the Pharisees struggled with accepting. 

This is what we should recognize. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we have seen both sides of this situation. We were once sinners, and now our sins have been forgiven. Yet, unlike this man, we continue to wallow in our former lives. It would be like Jesus telling this formerly paralyzed person to get up and have him respond by saying, “No, I rather like lying on the ground.” It wouldn’t make sense. So instead, our lives should echo Paul’s words as he writes, “We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:2)

Let’s be like the formerly paralyzed man and cast off the old way of living. But, let us also be like the wildebeest and not delay getting moving. Our lives have been eternally changed; we should recognize that fact and be excited about new possibilities and opportunities. So, let’s rise and walk. 

It’s Not Fair

Blog 3.21.2022    

It’s Not Fair

Theo has picked up and passed on a new phrase to his impressionable younger brother. This phrase seems to be an all-encompassing thought whenever things are not going the way they want. There are even many times that this term is misused. The magical words these boys like to utter are, “It’s not fair!” The other day, I asked Theo to pick up his toys that he had carelessly scattered around the floor; he retorted, “It’s not fair!” I asked him why that wasn’t fair and who he thought should clean them up since he made the mess and they were his toys. He pondered that and replied, “It’s not fair because I don’t like it.” To Theo, fair means good, and unfair means bad. However, this is not an accurate picture of fairness. 

Isn’t this human nature? We ascribe our fairness scale not on the overall situation but rather on how the situation affects us. If things are not going our way, we cry out that it is not fair. It reminds me of Jesus’ teaching concerning the overall justice of God. Matthew 5:45 [God] causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Imagine a world where there was a variation to this passage, that the sun only rose on the good, and rain only descended on the evil or any other combination you can fathom. This would be a terribly inconsistent world that would be chaotic for all its inhabitants. Indeed, we would like to live in an idealized environment that only benefits us; however, what would become of those around us? Even our own lives require the balance of rain and sunshine; we need both sun and water for life to be sustained. Therefore, God did the most judicious thing and created a consistent world concerning all of His creation. 

But what about the problem of evil in this world? Doesn’t the fact that people with evil motives and intentions exist to make it more difficult and unfair for those around them. Aren’t there people who suffer needlessly at the hands of the bad people in this world? What are we to do about those unfair situations? The answer is provided within the greater context of that previous verse. 

 Matthew 5:43-48 –
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

If you want to make the world more equitable and fairer, we do it by dealing with everyone equally. Not just the good and those who are similar to us. We achieve the perfection of God by loving those who are godless and against us. The unfairness of the world is due to people mistreating each other. Jesus asked his followers to break that cycle and love those persecuting them. This happens on an individual level with everyone we come across. Look at Jesus’ words “if you greet,” signifying a personal association with them. This is one of the more challenging aspects of being a Christian, loving our persecutors; however, it is the example that God has set before us. 

Ephesians 2:3-5 – 
 “All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved.”

The fair thing would be to give us all what we deserved, the wrath of God. However, because of God’s great love for us, we have been spared this appropriate end to our existence. It is easy to think that we all “deserved” grace, but it ceases to be grace. It is easy to feel that we deserve sunshine or rain more than someone else, but that is not just and fair. Many things in life are unfair; however, God is always perfectly just. It is because of God’s justice that Jesus had to be the payment for our sins. 1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit. Therefore, we have the Christian paradox that God’s justice was satisfied in Jesus so that we benefit unfairly. Because something is unfair does not mean it is bad. We were justified by Christ’s sacrifice, which is unfair, but it is to our advantage, and that is why we call it grace. Our reality is underserved, so we are also loving and kind to undeserving people because that is the example that we have been given. So we should be thankful that life is not always fair.

Don’t Give the Devil An Opportunity

Blog 3.14.21

Don’t Give the Devil an Opportunity

In the continuing saga of my lawn and the dreaded infestation of crabgrass, I got a call from Dan Hart. Dan knew of my situation last year while it was happening; he commiserated how difficult it was for him to eradicate that terrible weed. His neighbors had declared his lawn hopeless, but he found the secret. The secret was why he was calling me; he wanted to make sure I was going through the appropriate steps and that I, too, could be successful in eliminating the noxious weed from my yard. Dan told me the trick was to make sure that I was applying pre-emergent before the weed ever takes root and that I should do it as soon as possible. Because crabgrass is so invasive, it has to be treated when it is a tiny little seed and in a more vulnerable stage. Then as l digested this information, during our church spring cleaning workday, I saw Rod Webring spreading a pre-emergent throughout the planter beds. He agreed that this was the best way to stop weeds from ever popping up. So, when you hear the same advice from two elders, it is a solid practice to implement.

In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul gives his readers a description of living for Jesus. He describes it as a new way of living and that it will require some changes for each person to make.

Ephesians 4:20-27
“But you have not so learned Christ, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: 22 that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, 23 and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. 25 Therefore, putting away lying, “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another. 26 “Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, 27 nor give place to the devil.”

In this list of changes, Paul closes with the appeal to not give the devil an opportunity. Quite literally, he says not to give the devil a place. Don’t allow an opportunity for the devil in our lives may seem like a straightforward instruction; however, it is one that we execute poorly. We make these minor concessions to certain vices or attitudes of the world, imagining there will be no harm in allowing these little contrivances. Yet they wreak havoc on our spiritual well-being. It reminds me of one of Jesus’ teachings concerning unclean spirits.

Matthew 12:43-45
“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. 45 Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”

We often correctly dispose of the wickedness in our lives; however, we don’t fill it up with something beneficial. In Jesus’ discourse, he states that the unclean spirit leaves and then eventually returns sevenfold stronger to a place that has been left unoccupied. Being overpowered by the evil in our lives is a sad state for anyone to fall into; yet, it can happen to each one of us. We make a place for the devil to come in a make a home. We don’t do this intentionally; however, it happens out of negligence or complacency.

Filling our lives with good things is similar to a lawn; the first step is tackling the weeds before they take root. Once that is accomplished, the best thing a homeowner can do is maintain a healthy lawn. A thick and dense lawn will naturally keep out most nuisance weeds. This is an excellent reminder to strengthen our lives founded in Christ continually. Unfortunately, it is easy to let parts of our lives grow undeveloped or even uncultivated. If we don’t maintain a Christ-centered life, spiritual weeds can start spreading, and then it becomes difficult to rid our lives of these areas that have been prepared for weakness and vices. Therefore, don’t prepare a place for the devil in our lives; address evil before it ever takes root.


Blog 3.7.2022

Growing like Weeds

This past year I had a terrible infestation of Digitaria ischaemum in my lawn. Digitaria ischaemum is the scientific name for crabgrass. There are several problems with crabgrass. First, once it grows, it is not pleasing to the eye. It is not comfortable to walk on; thirdly, it is pervasive and invasive, spreading throughout a lawn very quickly. Finally, the most troublesome issue is that it is resilient and difficult to exterminate. I tried every feasible method to get rid of it. Still, to no avail, the grass-weed kept enduring happily in my yard, propelled by the summer sun and dry climate. That was until late fall; at that time, the days became shorter and the nights colder, and thankfully that weed was the first plant that began to wither. All of the time and effort that I put into eradicating that pest was fatefully accomplished within a few days by the turning of the seasons orchestrated by God’s masterful design.

This whole ordeal reminds me of Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares (weeds) recorded in Matthew 13.

Matthew 13:24-30
“He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”

I, too, felt like the people in this parable stating, “Did I not have good seed in my lawn?” The explanation of the parable (Matthew 13:36-43) gives us some further insight into the meaning of the parable. These “weeds” belong to the evil one, and they cause harm and ill-intent for those around them. They are pervasive, resilient, and difficult to overcome. You cannot pull these weeds up, or they will cause even more harm to those around them. The parable lays out the ideal methodology of dealing with them… is waiting until the end. These weeds have their season, and it is up to the good plants to outlast them. In 1 Timothy, we are implored to endure “The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, He remains faithful– for he cannot deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:11-13). Even though the weeds might be absorbing the nutrients and blocking out the sun, we must endure and survive the season of weeds. Endurance is the mark of faithful people, maintaining that faith throughout the most challenging of circumstances. Therefore, we wait on God’s perfect timing and become resolute to outlast the evils that persist around us. Much like the weeds in my lawn, there was very little I could do about weeds that were already there- they may have won the battle- but they would not win the war. I had to stay strong and allow God to do His work in my sphere of life.

One final thought on weeds, the world we live in is an ideal climate for weeds to grow, but it is also the perfect climate for my faith to be made stronger. If I am waiting for God and His timing, isn’t that the fulfillment of my faith? Enduring among the weeds requires me to trust God, and trusting God is a blessing. Therefore, I should count myself blessed to persevere, even in the most treacherous of times, because it is an expression of my faith. It may seem counterintuitive, and although we would like to live in a weed-free world, having weeds creates opportunities to endure and allows our faith to grow.

While we live in the season of weeds, let us be patient, wait on God’s timing, and endure as we prove our faith in God and His perfection.