Messy, vulnerable, baby Jesus

So Christmas is here. Soon we will be tearing apart the presents that were wrapped in attempted, not necessarily succeeded, beauty. The stress of it is most certainly here for so many. Family is in town. Maybe some travel. Others have house guests. We have our trees, whether natural or fake. We have our piles of presents. We have our Christmas villages and Santa Clause. Some parts of the world will have snow. I love Christmas. I love Christmas music, cheesy Christmas movies, decorations, ice skating, peppermint…pretty much anything that has to do with Christmas.

Yet in the midst of the Christmas season- holiday season for that matter if we go back to Halloween and Thanksgiving, we lose something. Even for those of us who are “religious”, faith-based, when we attend church, midnight Mass, or something else during this season, we often miss something. I think of something from a movie I find to be hilarious, though to many, they might find this scene sacrilegious. There’s a scene in Talladega Nights where, at the dinner table, there is a comical and ridiculous discussion on how to pray to Jesus. One claimed that he prays to grown up Jesus. Another prays to “6 pounds, 8 oz dear Lord baby Jesus”. It makes me wonder…

When people think of Jesus, even at Christmas, he is often thought of as the Jesus who died on the cross. We forget he was a baby first. We forget that he was vulnerable, exposed, dependent, bloody, uncomfortable, and messy. Jesus was a literal baby. He was born to a woman, just like any other person born. A C-section was not an option. He was born vaginally, where his mother had no pain killer, no doctors, no nurses, no ice chips. He was born and in his birth, the mess followed. There was blood, a placenta, possibly feces from Mary, as that is common for women as they deliver their baby. He was covered in the same amniotic fluid and blood that any other baby would be covered in, only he didn’t have a nice bath and towels to get cleaned. I imagine Mary’s screams being heard in the fields and houses nearby.  I imagine the pain that she would have had, delivering a baby with nothing but will and body.  I imagine Joseph nearby probably freaking out like any dad would be.  I imagine a very messy, very noisy, very painful, very uncomfortable, and yet all the while, very beautiful, powerful moment of history.

Baby Jesus was born.

I think it was on purpose that God chose to let Jesus enter this world painfully, in mess, and in vulnerability. You see, I believe God chose this to be the story of salvation because God wanted the world to see that he gets it…that life is messy and painful. I think God wanted to show Mary and Joseph that his story is bigger and better than we can fathom or understand. Rather than Jesus showing up as a man who had no life experience in relationship to everyone else, he, instead, came as a baby…a baby that pooped, peed, cried, and slobbered depending on Mary and Joseph to take care of him, just like any other baby.

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This world is very very messy. It is broken. It has so much pain. Moments, sometimes longer for others, challenge us. We are faced with hardship. I believe the Christmas story- the reason we actually go buy the presents, decorate trees, and attend services- completely and fully relates to our realities of brokenness, pain, and mess. Jesus understands and knows and wants to be part of your story. This Christmas, I pray and hope that you don’t pass it without thoughts on Jesus and the truth of his love for the world. Jesus could have chosen to not come. Jesus could have chosen to come as a man and not relate to us. Jesus could have ignored us altogether. Instead, he came in such a way that he truly and deeply knows our struggles and our pain. He knows our mess. And he is aching for you to recognize him. So many people ignored the star that showed over Bethlehem that first Christmas night. Kings and commoners ignored Jesus- the Messiah, Emmanuel, creator, and comforter, but more than anything, the king…the only King that can bring salvation, healing, restoration, and redemption. He can cleanse our mess, restore our brokenness, heal our hurts, and give us a hope.

Messiah.
Savior.
Emmanuel.
Prince of Peace.
Wonderful counselor.
Redeemer.
The Light of the world…

In Him, and only Him, we have life. True life.
Don’t miss Him this year.

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Jesus and Jihadists.

There have been so many heartbreaking things lately to happen. So much suffering. So much hate. There is no way to avoid hearing about the hurting happening in this world.  There is no way to avoid hearing about the evil. Lately, it seems the world’s greatest named enemy are Jihadists and terrorist groups. They are doing a great job of instilling fear and terror across borders and around the world. Between beheadings, bombings, mass shootings, public executions, and other threats, the world is hearing and seeing their evil.  What broke my heart this weekend was seeing some more news about more evil and pain through terrorist attacks in Paris, Beirut, and Baghdad.  So many lives lost.  So much hurting and pain.

Something struck me through the many social media posts I saw. So many posts were blaming refugees for the attack specifically on Paris. So many posts were calling for immediate airstrikes. And still others were full of grief. What became all the more clear to me in light of the events that occurred over the last week around the world, is that this world needs Jesus. I may sound like a broken record, and frankly I don’t care. Jesus is the only Hope, only Redeemer and only Savior of this world. Whatever brokenness, whatever evil, whatever pain, whatever tragedy we face, he is our hope. Our everything.

 

That goes for everyone. The Gospel and love of Jesus Christ is radically, completely and totally inclusive. In light of the recent events, this could be a very hard pill to swallow: Jesus loves Jihadists.  11906265_195480400790708_347100879_n

I am sure my last statement is not a popular one, but it is a Biblical one. Jesus came to this Earth to save the righteous only, right? No! Jesus came to bring healing to the broken, freedom for the captive, forgiveness for the sinner, redemption for the evildoer. People who encountered Jesus weren’t the same after.  They lived differently. Jesus came bearing a message that would weigh heavy for all of eternity because it was one that included every person. He lived and died for the forgiveness of this world, for every single person.  It is a painful and hard, and even unwanted, to hear that the Good News- the Gospel- is even for the terrorist.  I am not saying that justice on Earth doesn’t need to happen nor am I trying to nullify the evil done. Earthly consequences are often necessary and unavoidable.  I am just trying to convey a message that Jesus died for: a radical love that loved the enemies, the adulterer, the murderer, the liar, the gossip, the slave, the free, the parent, the child, the homosexual, the straight, the old and the young.

This radical love is one that I want to be better at. I want to be someone that can live out a love that is so radical that I can forgive the terrorist. Why? Because Jesus wants even them to turn from their evil and live for Him. I want to be someone that can love someone who may never return that love. I want to be someone that kneels and weeps and prays for those that hurt me and persecute me. I want to be someone that embodies so closely the character of Christ, that people see Jesus first in me.

I would love to be there the day that a Jihadist- a terrorist, a murderer, adulterer, whoever- meets Jesus. The day their life changes. The day that might be forgiven. The day they take ownership of their sin and claim redemption in Jesus.  I understand that the likelihood of me actually seeing that take place is slim, but I want to be sure to pray. To remember to pray for the hurting as well as the offender.  I want to remember to believe that redemption is possible for anyone, even if its on the other side of eternity.

Til the day I die…

It seems that our news is becoming more and more bleak, full of hopelessness, loss and despair only to be met with hatred, viciousness, and suffering. I have so much to say and I feel like I cannot fully express what exactly is going on in my mind and heart. But I can say this, that at my core, I am equally sad and angry as I am overjoyed and strengthened. You see, Christians globally are becoming more and more of a target of things that are reminiscent of the Early Church; things such as public executions, beheadings, crucifixions, shootings, and imprisonments. And I sit here in my dimly lit bedroom fighting tears wondering how I play a role in Christian history as events continue to unfold.

More Christians have been slaughtered brutally. In Syria, under the oppression of ISIS, 11 Christian missionaries were crucified and beheaded, just last month. Two of the women missionaries were publicly and violently gang raped only the to then be crucified. Other Christians have been beheaded in Africa. Others have been caged and drowned. And yet, still others, closer to home, have been shot. I can’t help but have a sense of camaraderie with my fellow Christians worldwide. But as I hear each story and painfully take in their suffering as a martyr and hero of faith, I am reminded of something that changed my life more than a decade and half ago.

April 20, 1999.

A normal day, until it happened…Two students, dressed in trench-coats and carrying various weapons, decided that they were going to change the course of history for their school and Littleton, CO.  These two gunman, teenagers, began bringing havoc on their school as they sought out specific targets. Some of their targets were classmates that confessed love for Jesus Christ and that they believed in God.  By the end of the day, they had intentionally shot, at close range, 12 of their classmates and 1 of their teachers, and then themselves.  As an early middle schooler, I was saddened and broken by this news. I remember it clearly. I remember watching TV reports of students and faculty fleeing the building. I remember seeing images of people jumping out of the second story windows. I remember the names of victims. But it wasn’t until a few years later, the events that unfolded that dark day at Columbine High School would forever change my life.

Having grown up in the church and being raised by Godly parents, I pretty much assumed I was “good” for a long time. I think a huge part of me loved God and loved church- especially events like camp. I loved youth group. I loved learning about Christianity and God. But one day I realized that it wasn’t enough. For two years, I was constantly reminded of the murders of the Christians at Columbine. For two years I couldn’t get a few of those names out of my head: Cassie Bernall, Rachel Scott, and Isaiah Shoals. Then, in 8th grade at a winter youth retreat, I was broken and realized that I had missed something in this story of Christianity. A youth group had done a drama to a song dedicated to the victims- specifically the Christians- of Columbine. A phrase in the song is what did me in.

“What if tomorrow, what if today, faced with that question, what would you say?” 

I realized that my religion wasn’t enough. My church attendance wasn’t enough. I realized in that moment, I did not have the faith those students had in their final moments. I remember thinking “God I don’t love you enough to die for you, but I want to.” It was in that moment, February 17, 2001, that I made a commitment, until the day I die, that I would try to love God with everything I had, even my last breath. From that day, I realized that it would be a journey to keep loving God no matter what was going on around me or happening to me. This journey is still happening. And that’s why news is painful at times, but necessary, to remind me of my commitment.

Last week, in Oregon, a similar shooting took place at Umpqua Community College, where a shooter targeted Christians for their faith. When I heard the news, my heart stopped for a moment, to give a silent prayer for the survivors of the shooting, and at the same time, remember the fallen of the Faith. Today, I learned of more executions by ISIS. There will be more. More hate. More evil. More persecution. More brokenness. But one thing, one thing I know for sure, is that in spite of the evil that exists in this world, the pain that follows, the brokenness that remains, I have Jesus Christ as my savior and my lord. This means I trust him, love him, and serve him with my life. He is my constant, steadfast and unwavering confidence in the midst of the darkness around me and in this world. Earlier in my blog I said “that at my core, I am equally sad and angry as I am overjoyed and strengthened”…I am sad and angry for the evil and hatred that exists. I am sad for the loss of life. I am angry at the taking of life. But I am overjoyed and strengthened because these Christians, faced with the question of belief and love in One God and Savior in Jesus Christ, they refused to recant, run away, make excuses, or betray. They stood firm. They were steadfast. They looked evil in the eye and said that God mattered more, even than their life. They knew that losing their life still meant gaining life and eternity with Jesus forever.

You may read this and think I am crazy. Just another religious nut. You make think this is bogus. But let me challenge with one thing: if I am wrong, then so be it. I lose nothing. But if I am right, I gain everything. I have a hope. I am not in despair. I am not lost. I am not weakened. I am redeemed and I am confident in Jesus. If I am faced with some event, whether natural, or evil, I want to know that I am doing my utmost, my best to live in a way that honors the God I say I believe in. If I am faced with death- I want to be among those that give up my life instead of give up my God. I want to be among the ones who finish strong and firm and confident in Him. Life is messy and painful. Life has evil. I don’t always understand everything. But I have hope in everything.

Til the day I die, I will live for Him.

 

 

 

Pierce the darkness with light.

 

For a moment, or rather just a few moments, the world seemed to care about the moon and story it had to tell. In case you weren’t aware, this past Sunday was the super moon lunar eclipse. It was nicknamed “blood moon” as well, as it was allegedly a prophecy for the end times (I don’t buy that part of the story). Whether you’re a sciency sort of person, a religious person awaiting the coming of Christ in the appearance of the blood moon, or someone who just wanted to see what the fuss was about, a lot of the world, waited and watched the lunar eclipse. Here are a few of my pictures from the night…I missed a few phases of the eclipse, I missed most of the red reflections of light (hence the nickname of “blood moon”). Clouds were in the way. We’ve had rain off and on and I just didn’t think I would get to see any of the eclipse. Actually, I was disappointed because I love astronomy- constellations and the incredible depth of mystery around it all. Staring into the night sky is easily among my favorite things to do pretty much ever. After checking outside to see the moon, I decided to grab my camera, you know, just in case.

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The clouds blocked a lot of the moon. Even when I checked on the phases of it, often it was hindered by clouds and was pretty much a moon like any other night. Or at least, it wasn’t anything worth fussing about.

 

But I continued to watch it sporadically and see if anything changed.
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Still….so many clouds. I tried to capture the ending of the eclipse as best as I could. Between the clouds and my amateur photographer skills, it wasn’t the best shot. It was still so incredible to experience. I mean think about it, the world almost collectively watched the moon and regardless of location, the moon was present. It doesn’t mean that clouds, storms, buildings, or something else hindered its presence. The visibility was just blocked.  Not only were so many people watching the moon, people were going at it on social media posting pictures. If I may be honest for a minute…I get so sick of poor quality pictures. I know I am not professional photographer, but I know enough technique and have enough skill to spot good pictures or, in many cases of social media, bad or outright terrible ones. But nothing bothers me more than people posting either their own or someone else’s poorly or obviously photoshopped picture and claiming it to be either a masterpiece or declaration of truth. Its a fraud. I am all for using editing software and even photoshop, but please, for all that is good and beautiful, stop with the terrible photoshops being passed as fact. I saw people posting pictures of a bright red moon sitting on the horizon of the Mount of Olives essentially peering over the Wailing Wall of Jerusalem. Not only was the moon placement incorrect, the size and color were both terribly wrong, and quite obvious. But then there were other, less obvious, frauds that had so many people believing its validity. And though many were deceived by these frauds, we still will declare to the world, that we don’t like fake…

After my attempt of catching the eclipse mostly failed, I went inside my townhouse to read and watch some Netflix. I like evenings because I like the quiet and reflective nature of them. So after some binge watching, junk food, and Facebook, I unplugged a bit. At this point it was about 2 in the morning. Silence. Part of why I love the silence of the night is because I like to go outside on a porch, balcony, in a backyard, or wherever I am, and pray, reflect, then listen for what God has to say. When I stepped outside, I was taken aback for a moment. I thought there were new street lights or something because it was so unusually bright. I quickly realized something: I got to see the finale of something incredibly beautiful while the world slept (or in reality the Western Hemisphere). The moon was brighter than I had ever seen. It was big and bold and perfect. The clouds were gone. The sky was clear. And it was lovely.

I stood at the backside of my apartment building and fence just smiling in awe of such beauty. The darkness was gone. The night lit up like it was the day. And then something came to my mind, I believe, a whisper from God.

Pierce the darkness with light.

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Our world is filled with so much filth. Distraction. Hate. Evil. So much darkness engulfs this world. Just like the earlier part of my evening and watching of the eclipse. The clouds got in the way of the beauty and perfection. You see, when we allow for things to pollute us and fill us with filth, we aren’t in the light. We all have sin, innate darkness, within us. It is the very reason why our world is full of evil. Its why there is brokenness and pain. But with Jesus, light has come. I know this may make me sound like a crazy person, but that’s honestly fine by me. Jesus died to bring life. He died to redeem. He died and rose again for each of us.  As Christians, Jesus needs to be the most important thing in our lives. He must be the light within us, but it must also break forth from us. What good is it if the light in us remains hidden from the rest of the world stuck in darkness? What good is it if we have been forgiven much and redeemed, yet aren’t telling others about it? Remember when I was talking about the bad photoshops? Yeah…nobody likes a fake, and if you’re a fake Christian- a hypocrite- people will eventually catch on.  Some might buy it, but eventually frauds are uncovered and exposed. If Jesus is the light of the world, if he is “the way the truth and the life”, why are we not excited to live that out and let the world catch at least a glimpse of that light? What good is grace and mercy in our lives when we aren’t living differently or offering it to others? If we, Christians…if we, the Church, stepped up and lived as we say we believe, and let Jesus not only change us, but light up the world around us, this world would and could look very very differently. Pierce the darkness around you with the light of Jesus Christ.

 

Charlie. 

Sometimes, we need to just stop… just for a moment, so we can see a bigger picture. Sometime we can be so busy. Think about it. We rush around to our own drumbeat and rhythm. On our way to work. Maybe it’s on your way to school. Maybe on your way to yoga or the gym. You might be rushing out the door with kids after a frazzled morning. At work, you might be overwhelmed with the insanity of a deadline or major project. In college, you have papers due, midterms and finals and an assortment of other assignments.

Life is crazy.

But does it have to be crazy? Does it need to be something that is so incredibly exhausting to the point where we miss life happening right before us? I had a moment yesterday. It’s been a tiring week so I was excited to sleep in until 8:30 or 9am. The coffee shop I work at has been insanely busy to the point where I’ve missed breaks and been on my feet for 8 hours straight. As I awoke yesterday, I saw a text asking me to come in for work early. I started getting ready for work thinking I’d be able to get there maybe 45 minutes to an hour early, instead of 2 hours early as requested. On my way out the door, I felt ready for what I figured would be another crazy day. I got in my car, with some worship music in the background, I began to pray- talking out loud to God. It may seem crazy but it’s a normal thing for me. I’ve been asking God for moments and opportunities for him to speak to me and show me things… little daily lessons. A few moments like that have happened lately and I’ve been wanting God to show me more. I wrote about one here on a previous blog.

Then something happened. I approached a busy intersection with the red light on my side. As I slowed to a stop I saw an elderly man walking with a cane across the street pulling a rolling suitcase. I was sad for him wondering where he was headed. The direction he was going would have him walking up some hills along a busy road in 95 degrees. In my heart, I knew I needed to pull over and see if there was something I could do. On an off chance miracle (or God ordained moment) he was heading to the Goodwill less than a mile from my store. So in a quick moment and choice, I decided to let him get in the car and I’d drive him to his destination. On our 10 minute drive, he shared a bit of his story. He’s 86 and diagnosed with liver cancer and has an inoperable tumor with 3 hopeful months to live. I’m unsure if he is currently or formerly homeless. Either way, he seemed to have a big story to tell.

When we pulled up to Goodwill, before he got out of my car, I asked if I could pray for him. I prayed for him- for God’s provision, understanding, and healing- but ultimately for God’s will to be done.  He then went on his way and I drove back toward my store. What I realized in those few minutes is something I wish more of us, especially Christians, could understand. Are we too busy to miss a moment or opportunity God has placed before us? Are we too rushed or too distracted to see God in the everyday? In the little moments? In the mundane? In the bustle and hustle of life, are we seeing what God is doing now? With Charlie, I got to hear his story, only in part, but I still was able to hear him, which I gathered he hasn’t been able to share in a long time. Are we willing to go out of our way for someone who can’t or won’t do the same? Are we willing to sacrifice for others, make time for others, or be uncomfortable for others?

Christians, we need to be in a place where the world sees Jesus in us. Jesus was incredibly intentional in everything he did. He chose to regularly go out of his way for others. He chose to regularly choose people in the midst of a crazy schedule. Jesus chose to help those who couldn’t do anything in return. Jesus taught his disciples that loving people, especially loving them where they were at (spiritually or physically), was the foundation of his message of the Gospel- the Good News. I’m not asking you to go do something extreme. I’m just simply challenging you to not miss God or the opportunities he places before us because we are too busy, too comfortable, too lazy, too distracted or too rushed. Maybe, just maybe, if we all could love our neighbor as ourselves, love people regardless if they can or will do anything for us, this world could look a lot more like Jesus.

The few moments like this over the past month have been moments that have spiritually challenged me to strive to actually be more like Jesus, instead of just saying I believe in him or love him. Whether its opening a door, picking up a stranger, paying for the person behind you, praying for that random person at work, or anything else, be sensitive and discerning to what God might possibly be saying to you or asking of you. It might be simple. But it might just be worth it.

The loudest voice

There is a good chance that I may not know your story…or know the details of your life, what you believe, behaviors you have whether public or private, or the things that have shaped you to be who you are today. I believe life should be lived intentionally and with great purpose. I believe that because of my faith. I also believe that some people can become seriously and painfully misguided by their beliefs.

This is one of those stories.

You see, last weekend I was in Dallas to go to another sexpo. Porn convention. Adult show. Name it what you will, I was there. Arriving in Dallas, I already knew the weekend would be different. It already was. My very arrival was contingent on the spontaneous road trip that I took with strangers I met at Houston airport. The city seemed quite when I arrived at nearly midnight while walking from the train station to my hotel in Downtown. I prayed to myself as I walked, pulling my seemingly overweight bag (I had almost 10 big books in there!). I prayed because I was grateful: the week leading into this Dallas convention I had been at another convention with thousands of pastors, a handful of which were the financial reason I was able to be walking through Downtown Dallas heading to a porn show. I was excited because this was another convention with XXXchurch where I would be able to share my story and the love of Jesus to anyone wanting to hear. Even gazing out my hotel room’s large bay windows at the silhouette of the cityscape, my heart melted. It melted because I know in my heart that Jesus loves me and that he is why I am who I am today, but so many people are stuck living lives of quiet desperation, brokenness, shame, fear, and wandering. My story of redemption- of Jesus changing my heart and my brokenness- is why I feel obligated and compelled to go to conventions like Exxxotica. If one person- ONE PERSON- can see Jesus through me and hear about how much he really loves them and accept that, then every single moment is worth it all.

But sadly, some people share a very different story.

At Exxxotica, we were met with many different voices, voices all telling a different story. Exxxotica itself is an event that highlights and glamorizes the sex industry and those who work it. I have met many industry workers and have gotten to know some closer; they are some genuinely amazing people. I don’t like pornography or what it can and will inevitably do to someone; I believe that it is a painful part of some people’s stories. It was a part of mine which is why I feel I have a voice in this.  Though I don’t like it, I do believe some people genuinely do, including some of those who work as porn stars. I also believe that when you disagree or even know the damages of certain behaviors or lifestyles, usually the loudest and meanest voice is the least received of them all. XXXchurch goes to this shows not “save” anyone from the industry. We don’t go to rescue people from trafficking. We don’t go so we can convert porn stars or producers or consumers. We go because we love Jesus and we believe He truly loves them. We go in love. We go giving out free things like stickers and t-shirts. We smile, we chat, we stand all day, we laugh, and we get to know people’s stories. We don’t yell. We don’t condemn. We don’t judge. That is not our job. Nothing we do or say can or will save someone for Heaven OR condemn someone to Hell. We are not God. We simply share who Jesus is to us and how he loves people.

There was a much louder, crueler voice present. They weren’t a booth. They weren’t a vendor. They were a local church. They were a church that apparently had craft time before showing up to the Kay Bailey Convention Center. Signs were made…and screaming was their choice of presentation.  Instead of preaching of the love of Jesus, redemption, salvation, or anything else, this church purposefully spoke in hate and condemnation. This church had signs that read “God hates fags”, “Homo sex is sin”,  and “Got AIDS yet?”. The kicker of it all was a man, who I believe was the pastor, holding a sign that read “You deserve rape” with the other side reading  “God laughs at your rape”. Tell me, please dear pharisees of that Dallas church, where in the Bible it says such things? Where does God laugh at sorrow or pain? The God you were screaming so violently and cruelly at attenders and workers of this convention is most certainly not the God I serve.

My God is a God of tremendous love. A God who forgives. A God who is unconditional. A God that sacrificed the very thing that brings us new life. He is a God that when we make choices and live our lives to our own pleasing, he draws us to Him and lets us choose to love Him (or not). It is a choice to allow God to work in our lives and transform us. You see, He is an incredibly patient God that will wait for us and never abandon. He will love us and never hurt us. When we hurt, he weeps, because he truly understands sorrow. He doesn’t laugh at our pain, but wants to be our strength especially when we have none. My God- my Jesus- sat with sinners at their tables, the very people that the religious elite thought they were too good or righteous for. Jesus chose to be associated with people who had baggage, made mistakes, had pain, lived questionable lives, had sorrow, had brokenness, and he chose in the midst of all of that to be a voice… calming and loving and redeeming. A voice resonating around the world even still 2,000 years later. A voice that didn’t need to show condemnation, especially when he was the only one actually able to be self-righteous. Jesus loves us as we are but loves us way to much to stay the same. He has a greater story ahead for us. And that story, dear friends, is what we share when we go to sexpos and porn conventions. This is why I share what God has done in my life. I have experienced first hand his grace and mercy and redemption. Instead of shoving religion down people’s throats or in their faces, I want to always offer hope through relationship with Jesus Christ.

The church protesting there may have been the loudest voice, but it was not the truest or holiest.

As always, Jesus loves porn stars. But he also loves the protestors. He equally wants to redeem us all.

 

Spiritually anorexic.

**disclaimer- I understand anorexia is a condition/disease and struggle for many people. This post is not to belittle it or take it lightly. It is a simple comparison of the result of starved faith. Please read with the understanding that my comparison is not an exact one**

A while back, my young adult group- a 20 somethings community that I was involved- was looking into personal disciplines for our relationships with the LORD.

And I realized how I kind of get angry about this subject.

For weeks we discussed in detail the specific disciplines of prayer,  study [the Bible, Christian books, etc.], meditation [not the kind done in yoga, et cetera but the idea of clearing the mind and infilling it with more of God while removing distractions], and fasting. Some of this disciplines I do regularly, the others I still do but can definitely improve on being more disciplined. The idea of going in depth into discussing these disciplines is to see how we can each grow in our relationship with God, and how in growing that relationship, it will inevitably affect the community around. Hence, inward to communal disciplines.

It has been great talking over these subjects, hearing from older pastors, people sharing their knowledge on specific disciplines…

…but tonight I got heated. I got mad actually. Not mad at anyone in particular but at the collective Church. I’m deeply sad for the Church. We waste so much time in programs and curriculums and trips, which yes are all great things, however they are not things that will likely bring the most personal change to each individual. Again, those things are good in context, but for the sake of what I am writing about tonight, some things get in the way. I got mad because I unsurprisingly hear so many pastors and church-goers complain about how they get nothing out of church, they are bored, they are struggling spiritually and don’t know why, or [fill in the blank of excuses].

Going over each of these disciplines taught me something pretty big yet so simple. Look at this way…

Let’s say you want to get in shape. At the new year, so many people set goals and “resolutions”, many often being about behavioral changes and weight loss. Great idea… but you’ll probably fail at it and this is why. You have a great idea but no game plan. The idea is great but you are lazy and say “I can do it later”. If you haven’t already started your New Years Resolution to lose weight… you probably won’t. And you won’t next year either. I don’t mean this to be harsh, but to make a point. If you want to lose, let’s say 40 pounds, a good first step is to 1) buy fitness programs or machines for home or 2) get a gym membership and 3) get accountability. Secondly, it might be good to buy gym clothes, sneakers, water bottles, weight gloves, etc. Spending money on gym equipment and accessories will be more of an incentive for you to actually do something about the problem you have or the goal you have desired. Heck, you can do all of that, but if you still only show up to the gym, and do nothing, you won’t get healthier. Period. It just won’t happen. Going to the gym won’t get you fit. You actually have to workout.

Your spiritual life is just like that. You can say you want to be a better Christian and, with all great intentions, still be a very lousy one. Until you actually create a lifestyle of discipline, you will not- I repeat- will not be a better Christ follower. Jesus Christ was incredibly disciplined. Whether you believe in him or not, it is undeniable that the story of Jesus is one dripping with love, discipline, and matching of lifestyle and beliefs. As a Christ follower, wanting to love him is not enough. Actions are proof of your love. Wanting to have a heart like Christ is not enough. You won’t suddenly love people one day. It just won’t happen. You won’t suddenly be knowledgable of the Bible. You won’t, unless by pure miracle sake, be free of an addiction like drugs or pornography. Your marriage will continue you to fail, your relationships will continue to crumble, your self-gratifying behaviors will still only satisfy temporarily. You’ll be nowhere.

Discipline, I believe, is one of the very things lacking in our churches today. We are an anorexic church because we are anorexic , starved believers that want to change but refuse to put in the work. We are believers that wonder why we are just as broken as people outside of Christ and the Church, because we only got saved and then did nothing else.  We are so spiritually starved because, rather than praying for change and believe He is able, we just settle and compromise and give up. We are spiritually slowly dying if we refuse to invite God to be a part of our marriages, our families, our churches, communities through prayer and study of His word. We want to be the kind of Christian that is a Billy Graham or some other big shot of the Christian faith, yet we wonder why we can’t get over our personal sin and struggles.

Discipline is the answer. Discipline is what makes you stronger. It is what gives you power, strength, diligence, resilience, perseverance, humility and courage to be the kind of Christ follower that actually looks like Christ. That means investing time without distraction in reading the Bible, in studying it-through commentaries, books, and other tools, in turning OFF the phones, computers, tablets, and just being in the silence of the heart and mind and talking and listening to God. It means investing in sacrifices like fasting…that may mean for you to fast food entirely, partially, or some other variation, or in the more common broader term, sacrificing something else [a desire, need or want] for the sake of pursuing God more [i.e. not going on Facebook or social media for extended amount of time]. We need to stop starving ourselves of the presence and Word of God and start hungering after Him. 

Why is that we can be so willing to watch Netflix for hours (guilty) yet we can’t study the Bible the same? Why is that we quickly remember lyrics and movie quotes without a second thought yet when it comes to recalling the Bible and what God’s Word truly says, we draw a blank? I see a big disconnect with us- the collective Church- and our pursuit of God. We are missing something and I believe it is discipline. If you want to grow in the LORD more you need to make the change. Stop being a lazy, compromising, or stubborn Christian and pursue God. Yes it takes work. Yes it is about discipling yourself, but just like working out and exercising to be healthy, the results are worth the effort. And you only get out of it what you put in. Instead of being spiritually anorexic, why not be spiritual fit and healthy? No more excuses. No more pity party. No more waiting. No more reasons why not. You can make the change starting now. This world has far too many hypocrites, Pharisees, and undisciplined, apathetic, lazy Christians. Be someone who wants to be an imitator of Paul, who imitated Jesus. Be someone who desires to bring the Gospel- the Great Commission- to the world, even if it that means for you just going across the street. Be someone who, in light of what is going on in this world, can reveal the redemptive love of Jesus Christ because He is who brings the transformation. Our job is to pursue Him and be holy as He is holy.

The slow change. 

This is very serious. And funny. And ridiculous. But hear me out…

Anyone who knows me well enough knows how I’ve talked trash about Country music. About the twangy annoyance that is the core of Country. The “something happened to my truck, my dog or my woman so-let-me-get-drunk-and-sing-about-it” music…ugh I hate it. But since I moved to Tennessee 3 months ago, and honestly even before I got here, I started listening to artists like Ben Rector, Andy Grammar and Taylor Swift. Mumford & Sons and Rascal Flats. And now Sam Hunt. Randomly on the radio here I’ll hear a song that catches my attention. And of course, its a Country song.  Slowly, but surely, my thoughts toward (some) country and folky styled music has changed. I don’t hate it all. I enjoy some of it…the poppy, the fun, the easy-to-dance to Country music, a lot of which is barely or not at all considered Country. I like line dancing. Actually, I love it. Always have. I’m the goofy person at weddings dancing to every line dance, country or not, heels or not.

What I realized today is that my enjoyment of some Country music didn’t come over night. It came as I embraced certain artists. It came as I have lived in the South longer (and actually again) and the fact that its a part of the culture here.  I live an hour away from the country capital of the world. What’d you expect? I have some friends who love it, therefore, I’ve had no choice but to listen to it when I’m with them. I’ve danced to Country. I’ve had those Sweet Home Alabama, Hope Floats, marry me charming- southern-country-cowboy ideas. When I was living New Jersey, I actually had a few friends tell me that they think I belong in the South because I look like a country girl (that’s still to be debated). Slowly, but very very surely, Country music  is growing on me.

What I actually realized is that this is exactly how we are with sin. It’s never overnight. Regardless of the type of sin, sin is a creeping, deceiving, and dangerous thing to have.  We compromise. The compromise may not happen fast. It may be years of slowly deciding something: to take glances at pornographic websites which eventually lead to an addiction; to flirt with that woman who is not your wife which leads to an affair; to cut corners at work which lead to fraud; the list could go seriously on. We surround ourselves with people who pull us down. We settle. And sure enough, one day, we find ourselves addicted porn, cheating on a spouse, lying on the job, committing a crime, etc. The people we put in our lives are so crucial. Our friends, our inner circles, our closest, most intimate people in our lives ultimately determine the direction. It may seem like nothing, but think about it for a minute. When you are deciding on asking a person out, who do you usually talk to first? When you are thinking about a new job, who do you ask for advice from? When things are rough, whose shoulder do you cry on?  When life happens, we usually have people alongside us. The problem that some of us find ourselves in, is that when life happens, we don’t have an actual solid support system. We have people who tell us mediocre or, dare I say, stupid advice. We trust the wisdom of other people who have no idea what they are doing, people who make poor decisions, etc. For me, I don’t get dating or guy advice from friends that have a track record of dating a guy for a short time then having things end. I don’t go to those friends, not because they aren’t friends, but because their advice won’t help, unless I want to learn the “what not to do”. What many of us do is surround ourselves with people that aren’t a support at all. I’m not saying everyone has to have all of life’s answers. What I am saying is that, the company we keep influence our direction for life. Scripture says a few times that “bad company corrupts good character”.  If you’re in AA and abstaining from alcohol, the wisest advice I can give you is to not be around alcohol or those that drink. How can the alcoholic get sober hanging around drinkers? How can student do well on all their exams when they only spend their time goofing off with their friends never studying, only to find out they failed? How can a Christian grow in their faith in a world where our faith is challenged, when that Christian doesn’t have a community of believers in their life or a sustainable prayer and devotional life?

Friends, look at those people in your life and the choices you make. Are you in good company? Are you a better person because of those friends? Or possibly, do some changes need to happen because of those relationships and negative changes?

Christian friends…I don’t go to friends, Christian or otherwise, about wisdom on scripture, life or current events from people who aren’t in the Word figuring out and discerning God’s will for our lives. Christians, when I struggle with areas of my life and sin, I can’t be surprised when I am in it deep, if I never had safeguards to protect me from getting there. It is the slow compromise of faith, of behaviors, of actions publicly and privately, of choosing something other God as a priority. It is the allowance of negative influencers in our lives. Christians, I challenge you, give people great access to your life- your dreams, your passions, what excites you, and what breaks you. But use wisdom with those people. Use wisdom in how you respond to things going on around you. Be in the Word, and don’t just read it. Let things in life change you and challenge you, but make sure they are things that are Godly, good and matter.

For the One.

“As a prisoner”…I find myself intrigued, convicted, humbled, and moved by this phrase.

Paul, in many of the letters he wrote that can be found in the Bible, started with this phrase in some variation. Last night as I read through the letter [book] of Ephesians, my heart was so deeply moved. He was a prisoner. He was a religious prisoner because of his belief in who Jesus really was: not a story, not a man, but a savior that changes everything.

Paul’s life was completely changed in one encounter with Jesus- the resurrected Jesus- on the road to Damascus. At the time, he was called Saul, he was a Pharisee [Jewish leader], part of the Sanhedrin [Jewish elite], and on his way to imprison and even kill Christians, people that were of both Jewish and Gentile backgrounds, that decided that they believed in the man Jesus, as their savior. His life was changed when he met Jesus and he was the never same. Never.

In his letter to the church found in Ephesus, he urged for the unity of their church. He urged them to keep in focus what was truly important. Not legalism. Not opinion. Not self. But Jesus and how he had changed their lives, individually and collectively. He first reminded them they were redeemed. If they followed and believed in Jesus they were redeemed, forgiven, and new. They were made alive-new- in Jesus. It was for that reason that he challenged their church to be bold and embrace a deeper love for Jesus, one that could not have been questioned or doubted. It could not and would not be something that only ended with loving Jesus; actions had to follow.

This was the challenge.

“I, therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the called to which you have been called, will all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity in the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit- just as you were called to one hope that belongs to your call- one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each of us….put on a new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness…walk in love….for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of Light…we are members of His body.” [sections of the book of Ephesians]

Paul completely understood the challenge of turning one’s life around. He understood the sacrifice, the difficulty, the cost, and also the joy. He understood that Jesus was worth it. But he also understood that with loving Jesus, his life could no longer look like it did before he had met Jesus- before he committed his life to Him. He knew the church in Ephesus, among the others he wrote to, struggled with this for one simple fact: we are human and completely fallible.

But it is in our humanity that we have a choice. If we have been given the option of something better and greater, why would we miss out on that? Why would we choose anything but that which is better and greater? I continue the challenge that Paul set forth 2,000 years ago, one that I know full well that I need to work on personally. I need to live my life in such a way that it shows the love that Jesus has for me, a love that has changed me, and a love that has freed me. I need to be humble, admit my own wrongdoings, be patient and gentle, especially with those that lack a love of Jesus. I need to work on keeping unity with other believers in Jesus, but also show deep, sincere love for those outside the faith, not because of trying to convert anyone, but because I want the love of Jesus to overflow, so that others, if they choose, might choose His love. Everything I do is for Him because He gave everything for me. He is why I am different. He is why I am no longer bound to my own shame, guilt, fears, sin, and selfishness. He is the very One who forgives me when I mess up, despite trying to love him. I was once living in darkness. My darkness looks different than yours. But I can guarantee, we all have darkness…and we are all offered a chance to be removed from that darkness and brought to life into the Light. Paul understood the concept of darkness to light. Persecutor, possible murderer, a man full of hatred, full redeemed and forgiven brought to restoration through Jesus Christ. He is the One. He is the Only One.

He is Jesus.

True and Better

[copyright for video and script in link]

The Bible is not a a series of a disconnected stories.

It is a single narrative in which every story, every character points beyond itself to one who is greater.

The story of Adam and Eve is not just about the first man and woman…. there is a true and better Adam who passed the test in the Garden and who obedience is ascribed to us.

There is a true and better Abel who, though innocently slain, has blood that cries out, not for our condemnation, but for our acquittal.

There is a true and better Abraham who answered the call of God to leave all the comfortable and familiar and go out into the void to create a new people of God.

There is a true and better Isaac, the son of laughter, of grace, who was not just offered up by his father on the mount but was truly sacrificed for us all.

There is a true and better Jacob who wrestled and took the blow of justice we deserved, so we, like Jacob, only receive the wounds of grace that wake us up and discipline us.

There is a true and better Joseph who, at the right hand of the king, forgives those who betrayed and sold him and uses his new power to save them.

There is a true and better Moses who stands in the gap between the people and the Lord and who mediates a new covenant.

There is a true and better Rock of Moses who, struck with the rod of God’s justice, now gives us water in the desert.

There is a true and better Job, the truly innocent sufferer, who then intercedes for and saves his foolish friends.

There is a true and better David whose victory becomes his people’s victory, though they never lifted a stone to accomplish it themselves.

There is a true and better Esther who didn’t just risk losing an earthly palace but lost the ultimate heavenly one, who didn’t just risk his life, but gave his life to save his people.

There is a true and better Jonah who was cast out into the storm so that we could be brought in.

There is a true and better Passover Lamb, innocent, perfect, helpless, slain so the angel of death will pass over us. He’s the true temple, the true prophet, the true priest, the true king, the true sacrifice, the true lamb, the true light, and the true bread.

The Bible is not a series of disconnected stories.

It is a single narrative that points to one person…

Jesus.