Is My Faith a Joke?

IMG_1992The other night I was watching The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, a rerun from back in May, when he told this joke in his monologue:

“The St. Louis Rams made history on Saturday by drafting Michael Sam, making him the first openly gay player in the NFL. Yep, an NFL player who’s never been with a woman — or as Tim Tebow put it, ‘Eh, it’s been done.’”

After the first part of the joke, Fallon and the audience applauded at decision of the St. Louis Rams, and then laughed at reference to Tebow’s faith and belief.

I was fairly fired up, mainly because in a world today that raises the banner for “equality,” this joke was a microcosm of what reality is really like. I know, it’s just a joke on a tv show, but it got my gears turning. And then I got even more fired up, but this time it was directed at me.

This whole instance made me ask myself, “Is my faith a joke?” What does it say about me, other Christians, and the Church, when what we believe and so many have given so much for is the punchline in a joke?

What do others say about God because of me? Is my faith a joke?

Paul dealt with this very issue when he wrote the letter to the Romans. Actually, he was bringing up an issue that was a constant in Israel’s history. Their lives and actions did not match up with the God and faith they professed. Take a look at what Paul wrote in Romans 2:17-14:

17 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God 18 and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; 19 and if you are sure that you yourself area guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21 you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. 24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

Verse 24 is a reference to Isaiah 52:5, when the prophet deals with the same problem. No one took God seriously because the Jews were no better than anyone else. Their lives reflected no difference, no desirable qualities.

Jim Putnam wrote about this idea regarding today’s Christians. In his book DiscipleShift, he looks at the fact that Christian marriages are just as likely to end in divorce, Christians are not healthier, in as much debt, are not more generous, and so on. Basically, overall, our faith really is a joke to those that look on. Many of us are trying to hold to the days when being a “Christian” was something that was respected or admired, but those days are quickly crumbling away.

Even though Christians are divided on issues in our culture today, the Bible is very clear on many things. It is also equally clear on how much the world rejects God and all that He stands for. We can never expect to tell the world that such and such is a sin and expect anyone to listen if our lives do not show that following Jesus is better than anything else in life.

Ask yourself, are people laughing at God because of my life? Is my faith a joke?

As long as there is sin in the world, people will always reject God – even if we lived incredible lives full of faith. But we must ask ourselves about the reality of our faith.

If we really want to change the world, we have to live in such a way that shows people that Jesus really DOES make a difference. Our lives at church and at home must be the same. We must love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Our marriages have to be better. Our business dealings have to be better. Everything should be better – because Jesus is better!

“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” – Matthew 17:14-21

This past week, I was in Colorado on a mission trip with my church. One day we took off and went to the top of Mt. Evans, which was 14,270 feet. We drove most of the way and hiked the rest to the top. Let me tell you, mountains are big. IMG_6831

In Oklahoma, we don’t really have mountains. There are a few really tall hills, and one even stops short of a mountain by just a few feet. But they are nothing like a 14,000 foot pile of rock.

At the top of Mt. Evans, my friend Aaron asked me, “Man, what do you think it would have been like back in the day trying to cross all this with a horse and wagon?” I just couldn’t imagine what it would have been like as a traveler to get that first glimpse of the mountains and think, “I have to the cross THAT?”

In your life, have things come your way that feel like crossing mountains? Sometimes the task just seems way too big for us. Wouldn’t it be easier if you could just pick up the mountain and move it out of the way?

There’s an interesting story in the Bible where Jesus talks about that very idea: Matthew 17:14-21:

14 And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, 15 said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. 16 And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” 17 And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” 18 And Jesus rebuked the demon,[b] and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. 19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” 20 He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” [21 However, this kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting.]”

Jesus spent a great deal of time and ministry addressing several different crowds looking for him. This was no exception, as a father is desperately looking for Jesus, because his son suffers from seizures, possibly a form of epilepsy. However, from the passage, we see that this was brought on by a demonic spirit in the boy; it was not just a physical ailment. Evidently, he has already tried to ask the disciples to heal the boy, but to no avail.

The man still has faith in what Jesus can do though. He goes right to the source. But Jesus makes an interesting statement first. He seems to be troubled at the lack of faith of the disciples and people around Him. However, Jesus does not quit here or give up on these men. As we know, He continues on with them and patiently teaches them. He knows one day these disciples will change the world.

However, right now the disciples have a problem, and Jesus tells them in verse 20: their faith is too small. And evidently, it is VERY small. Jesus says that all they need is faith the size of a mustard seed, and they can move mountains. MOUNTAINS? And that’s not a lot of faith either.

mustard_seed1At the time, the mustard seed was the smallest seed people knew of, and that is why Jesus used that picture. If you have a second, go check your spice cabinet for a small container of mustard seeds and pick one up. It’s tiny!!!

But the dynamic we can miss here is where the faith really resides. Too often we place the emphasis on the disciples and what they can accomplish. If they only had a little faith, they could have healed that boy!

However, the problem was really where their faith was. They probably had faith, but faith in their own strength and power. But what we miss is that faith the size of a mustard seed is not about what we can do – it’s about what GOD can do!

And mountains are a peculiar picture. Is Jesus talking about moving actual mountains? What do you think it might look like if we could actually move a mountain. Maybe, something like this?

The theologian William Barclay says that Jesus was not talking about actual mountains, but rather difficult situations. This was a common metaphor to the Jews and used by Jewish teachers. A great Jewish teacher would be known for “moving mountains” by how well he taught. So, perhaps Jesus was really saying, “There is no situation too difficult for God to see you through. Through His power, you can overcome anything.”

Maybe Jesus was actually talking about mountains and trying to use that incredible picture? Probably a little of both. What is certain is that mountains are impossible for us to move, and many things in life are just too much for us to handle. However, when we trust in God and His power, ANYTHING is possible.

What does this mean for us today? There are several implications from this part of Jesus’ ministry that is relevant for us even today.

First, we are not perfect, but Jesus always is. These disciples failed the father, but He never lost faith in what Jesus could do. There are so many that turn their backs on God because of how the church or pastors have failed them. When we put our faith in what men can do, we will be let down some how, some way. But Jesus never fails. Never has, never will. Do you have faith in that?

Secondly, Jesus is so patient! How often did the disciples fall short, and yet He never gave up on them. How often do we fall short? Do you ever feel like He has given up on you? Having faith in Christ means knowing that even when we fall, He always picks us up.

Finally, how much do we really trust in God? I’m not saying that we have to always have a smile on our face and say with a southern accent, “Everythin’s gonna be alright!” Jesus did not say our faith had to be the size of a watermelon, although, maybe some people have that! We can think that things are impossible, but that’s God’s m.o. He loves the impossible! We just have to trust Him more than ourselves.

So what would it look like if we trusted in Jesus more? How would your life be different?

Maybe you are wondering, “How can I even do that?” There’s a verse that may show up in your Bible in this passage, verse 21, that does not appear in every translation. The reason for this is because it does not appear in every copy of the old Scriptures that we have, so it may have been added later, or maybe not. A similar phrase appears in Mark 9, so there has been some acceptance of it, although fasting is not mentioned there. But prayer is!

With or without the verse, prayer remains a vital part to our faith in God. Just look at how much Jesus, the Son of God, prayed! Prayer focuses our heart and trust on God. It draws us closer to Him.

I don’t want to minimize what mountains may be in your life, because if a struggle is hard enough, it’s like a mountain for sure! But I would like for you to take a moment and just write down what struggles or situations in your life may be like a mountain – something you can’t lift on your own.

Maybe there is also just a part of your life you know you need to trust God more in. Write that down too. Then we are going to spend some time in prayer, asking God to give us more faith. Just tell God you want to trust in Him and His power.

Put whatever you wrote down somewhere you can see it regularly. When you see it, just stop and pray. Ask God for a mustard seed. Trust in Him and let Him do the heavy lifting.

Christ, the Creator, Sustainer, Saviour, Redeemer, and Lover of His People // Colossians 1, Psalm 33

IMG_4826Psalm 33 could quite possibly be my favourite Psalm. It has a four-part movement to it that is just absolutely brilliant. Not only does it bring praise to the Lord, but it gives a great picture of Who He really is!

Before we go there, I want to look first at how Paul described who Jesus was to the people of Colossae, the Colossians.

In Colossians 1:15-23, we see a picture painted by Paul of who Jesus is:

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven,making peace by the blood of his cross.

21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

Jesus, the Son of God who came down to us as a man, shows us physically who God is. Paul describes that through Christ, all things were created, He holds all things together! Not only did He create, but He gave His life to save that creation from themselves. Through His blood, burial, and resurrection, we can be right with God. Our faith in that sacrifice, in Jesus, is what makes us right with God. Following Jesus is the only way!

That’s what this week, Passion Week or Holy Week, and Easter is all about. God’s plan to save us and His creation. And this whole concept is actually quite different from any other religion or belief that exists. Everyone else is searching for what we must do to get to God, but Christians believe God came to us!

Psalm 33 describes this very well. As we read through it, notice the four-part movement it makes in showing us who the Lord is.

The first section, verses 1-5, the psalmist gives an introduction to God and a call to praise Him. Singing is called for, as well as skilled playing on instruments. An overall picture of God and His faithfulness is shown here.

Verses 6-12 speak to the mighty power of the Lord. He created the universe by His words, and He holds everything together in His mighty hands. There is no nation or power on earth that is stronger than God. He never fails, never ends, and never gives up. God always wins; blessed are those that see that and know it to be true. These verses demonstrate just how big and mighty God really is. The next section takes a surprising turn.

The next section is verses 13-17, which demonstrates that while God is infinite, He is also intimate. He is not far away from His creation, but rather, the Lord is part of the comings and goings of all that happens. He is not a Creator separated from His creation.

Finally, verses 18-22 converge on all that has been brought forth to show that not only is God infinite and intimate, but He is faithful to those who fear Him. Those that hope in the Lord will never be dismayed, because He is always faithful. He love chases us like a lion chases its prey.

Psalm 33 is a great picture of how incredible God really is, and how much He really loves us. When we know a truth like this, we cannot help but worship Him! In so many of our churches today, worship is stale not because of style or setting, but because the Lord’s worshippers do not really know who they are worshipping!

It is simply awesome for me to think that the God who made everything I can see (and even what I cannot) by the words of His mouth is the same God who loves me, knows me, and will never leave me.

Verses 18-19 are very similar to something Paul wrote in Romans 8:28, “28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

One might think that God only hears or works in the lives of those that love Him. However, a theologian named William Barclay wrote in his commentary on Romans that God doesn’t just work in certain lives of those that love Him. Rather, when we love and trust God, we see Him working. If we don’t love and trust Him, we won’t see what He is doing in and around us, and we certainly won’t trust in Him!

God is not far away with a big beard looking down on Earth like a diorama, watching little people go to and fro. He created us, He loves us, and He works all in and around us everyday. Jesus Christ came TO us! He really wants the best for us, and is with us through the good and the bad and the ugly.

May this truth be written upon your heart, and may you love and trust Jesus today – for the first time or like never before. May the more you get to know the infinite God who made us and loves cause you to worship Him more and more.

Praise to the Creator and Preserver.

33 Sing for joy in the Lord, O you righteous ones;
Praise is becoming to the upright.
Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre;
Sing praises to Him with a harp of ten strings.
Sing to Him a new song;
Play skillfully with a shout of joy.
For the word of the Lord is upright,
And all His work is done in faithfulness.
He loves righteousness and justice;
The earth is full of the lovingkindness of the Lord.

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
And by the breath of His mouth all their host.
He gathers the waters of the sea togetheras a heap;
He lays up the deeps in storehouses.
Let all the earth fear the Lord;
Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him.
For He spoke, and it was done;
He commanded, and it stood fast.
10 The Lord nullifies the counsel of the nations;
He frustrates the plans of the peoples.
11 The counsel of the Lord stands forever,
The plans of His heart from generation to generation.
12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
The people whom He has chosen for His own inheritance.

13 The Lord looks from heaven;
He sees all the sons of men;
14 From His dwelling place He looks out
On all the inhabitants of the earth,
15 He who fashions the hearts of them all,
He who understands all their works.
16 The king is not saved by a mighty army;
A warrior is not delivered by great strength.
17 A horse is a false hope for victory;
Nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength.

18 Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him,
On those who hope for His lovingkindness,
19 To deliver their soul from death
And to keep them alive in famine.
20 Our soul waits for the Lord;
He is our help and our shield.
21 For our heart rejoices in Him,
Because we trust in His holy name.
22 Let Your lovingkindness, O Lord, be upon us,
According as we have hoped in You.

In a world full of lies, we need to speak the truth into other’s lives.

Story of Barnabas: Acts 4:36-37; 9:26-28; 11:19-26; 13:15-16; 16:1-5IMG_3391

Have you ever had someone who believed you and really encouraged you? Doesn’t it just make all the difference in the world? Over the past week, I’ve had some conversations with some folks in our church who have a heart for encouraging and praying for young families who are just starting out.

Then, in Church Planting Apprenticeship class on Monday, we talked about Barnabas, and how his life of encouragement was an incredible way of discipling others. And then today! A friend of mine posted a video on Twitter called “Street Compliments” that just blew me away. You can watch it here:

So it seems apparent to me that God is really trying to show me something about encouragement and building one another up. And don’t we all need it? This world is full of lies that are given to us. Facebook, TV, magazines, people we know, and so many other places fill our heads with lies.

And in a world full of lies, we need to hear and speak the truth in lives.

In Acts, the life of Barnabas paints a clear picture of how living this way can change lives. Acts 4:36-37 shows us that encouragement is selfless! Barnabas’ real name was Joseph! The apostles saw what kind of man he was, an encourager, and nicknamed him Barnabas, which means, “Son of Encouragement!”

He was a selfless, generous man, which is what encouraging is all about: giving and investing into others (vs. 37). When we don’t encourage others, we are generally focused on ourselves – we are selfish. Even if we don’t think we are overtly selfish people, keeping the truth to ourselves is being selfish! Barnabas was generous and selfless with more resources than just words. His whole life reflected encouragement.

Encouragement is speaking the truth, even when it is difficult (Acts 9:26-28). Paul (or Saul) was not at all popular with the apostles, because he had been ferocious in trying to hunt them down! Even though Christ changed His life, these men were still wary.

Barnabas was able to see the potential in Paul and see the truth in His life. Christ had really changed him. That was the Holy Spirit working in Barnabas’ life to see what Paul could be. It’s hard for us to have that vision sometimes, but when we live life by the Holy Spirit, He speaks to us the truth to give to others. We live that kind of life through time in the Word and prayer. THAT is where our real truth comes from! Sometimes the truth is tough to speak.
In this part of Acts, Barnabas had Saul who had a rough past. But other times, the truth means confronting the past, or even the present. Paul did this with Peter (Galatians 2:11-14). Peter was living in the wrong, and Paul gave him a hard truth. The way Paul did it is not the model for us always to do that, but it shows all of us that we must speak the truth, even when it is difficult.

Encouragement is also contagious (Acts 11:19-26; 13:15-16; 16:1-5). In Acts 11, Barnabas’ encouragement of believers led to even more disciples being made! He then takes Paul with him and they begin to minister together.

In Acts 13, Paul, who Barnabas had taken under his wing, steps out into the lead and begins sharing the word of the Lord!

In Acts 16, even though Paul and Barnabas are not together anymore, Timothy joins Paul and the cycle begins again!

When we encourage others, we cannot think in a linear progression. Encouragement and discipleship are EXPONENTIAL!

You know what I think is amazing about the life of Barnabas? It’s simple. He didn’t have discipleship books or classes. He shared the truth of God and invested in a few others, and that changed the world!

Encouragement is not fleeting or meaningless. Real, truthful encouragement changes lives.

And don’t sell yourself short either. You may think that you don’t know enough to disciple someone or be that Barnabas to someone else, but you can! We call can! In fact, that’s our calling from the Lord – to make disciples!

I hope this encourages you as it has encouraged me. My heart is full of joy when I think of those in our church who want to be like Barnabas to other believers. Because without Barnabas, what would have become of Paul?

If I can encourage you, or help you in being that person for others, I would love to! And what are some ways that you have been encouraged? Who is God calling you to encourage? the right heart.

Valentine’s Day: Is Your Relationship Real? // Deuteronomy 30:11-20

love-2Valentine’s Day: the celebration of the life of St. Valentine or the commercialization of affection in the world today? Whatever you might think, it’s on the calendar and it is nigh. And if you’re like me, you oft contemplated how silly it is to conjure up a day just to make you have to go out and buy a special something for that special something. Or maybe you’re like me and February 14 each year was the day you lamented the lack of homemade cookies from the pretty girls in your class at school. Wait, that wasn’t me…yeah…anyway.

Let us just move past the origins of the day and who the real St. Valentine was just for a moment and consider what February 14 really means. Yes, it’s a payday for retailers. Yes, it’s a stinging wound for those sans-valentine. But I think we lose grasp of the opportunity a day like Valentine’s Day provides – a chance to show that the relationships in our lives are real.

Do gifts in heart-shaped gift bags define a relationship? No. Well, at least, not on their own. Even though love is the heart of a real relationship, there must be evidence of that love. Maybe it’s a gift. Maybe it’s a genuine act of kindness. Maybe it’s heart-shaped pancakes with powdered sugar. Just saying.

Today, our post-modern approach to Christ and being a Christian can often push back against duty and commitment, which drove the Church in the last generation. Many of us today look back and see what we think are people committed to the Church but not committed to Christ personally. The danger of this is thinking that it’s ALL about love, a feeling. However, how we live shows how we love.

As I have said before, the Old Testament contains many laws and rules that we think defined righteousness. But throughout the book of Deuteronomy, we see that love ALWAYS came first, but what came next was how that love was supposed to be lived out. How the people of Israel lived was their relationship with God.

Deuteronomy 30:16, “For I am commanding you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commands, statutes, and ordinances, so that you may live and multiply, and the LORD your God may bless you in the land you are entering to possess.”

That entire chapter of Deuteronomy is worth your time right now to read. It even speaks of God’s faithfulness and love to His people when they don’t keep up their end of the relationship. Things may get really difficult, almost hopeless, but God will never leave them – and He will never leave us.

But how we do show God our relationship with Him is real? Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Not that we are earning God’s love, but we are demonstrating our love for Him.

On the eve of another Valentine’s Day, may you consider the reality of the relationships you have. They do not have to be romantic relationships necessarily, as I think Valentine’s Day has led us to see love in the context of.

Are you relationships real? With Jesus? With the ones you love? Show it!

Valentine’s Day may be over-commercialized and falsely romanticized. Those at Hallmark may not actually mean all those things they put in their cards that make you cry (if you work for Hallmark and are reading this, and you really do care, I’m just making an example and will still buy your cards).

Even if all that is true, that does not give us an excuse to “buck the system” and rebel against our relationships. May Valentines Day can serve as a reminder to make your relationships real.

What are ways that you show love to God with your life? What are ways you show love to those you have relationships with? And what are ways that you like to be shown love? Please comment below! I’d love to hear what you have to say!

Trading the Kingdom for a king // 1 Samuel 12

Ever feel like you got a bad deal on a trade in? It always seems like cars never quite the trade-in value we feel like they should. I remember one time I had a nice acoustic guitar that I paid quite a bit for, and I wanted to trade it in a music store for an electric and an amp. In my head, I figured the values were about the same.

When I went in, the people at the store looked over my guitar (in great shape by the way), and after some time they offered me a price, which was WELL below what I had hoped. As much as I wanted that electric and amp, I knew this was not a fair trade.

The people of Israel wanted a trade – they wanted to make a deal with God. Picking up the story of the Hebrews in 1 Samuel, up to this point Israel had been led by the Lord, His Law, and several men and women who “judged” or helped the people live the law out. This didn’t always go like it should, for man is man, and several of these judges fell short.

Even before that the people had Moses and Joshua – great leaders but still lead only by the voice of the Lord and made it known that it was God who led the people.

But in the time of Samuel, the people of Israel were not happy being unlike the rest of the world, not having a king. Everyone around them had a king for their kingdom, and the Hebrews were not satisfied to have God as their leader.

Don’t we act the same way? The people of Israel had the Creator of the Universe leading them. They were HIS people and He wanted to be THEIR God, but time and time they rejected him. They “traded down.”

We will do that in different ways too. We will say we are God’s people, but our time, money, energy, and worship goes to things that are not worth it. Samuel, the great prophet who lead Israel until they had a king made this statement in his farewell address in 1 Samuel 12:20-21,

“Don’t be afraid. Even though you have committed all this evil, don’t turn away from following the Lord. Instead, worship the Lord with all your heart. Don’t turn away to follow worthless things that can’t profit or deliver you; they are worthless.”

I know I’ve been there before. I’ve felt like I’ve messed up so badly that even God wouldn’t want me back, so what’s the point? And I have also spent plenty of time chasing after worthless things.

Any trade that we accept in exchange for God is a trade-DOWN. Make no mistake – you can’t get better than Christ and His Kingdom.

All the time in the Old Testament people would carve an idol out of wood, stone, or metal and worship it. And so many Scriptures showed how foolish that is. Habakkuk 2:19 says, “Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Come to life!’ Or to lifeless stone, ‘Wake up!’ Can it give guidance? It is covered with gold and silver; there is no breath in it.”

Between people and idols, we far too quickly put our lives and loves in the hands of corruptible, lacking things. Take just a minute and read 1 Samuel 12 and Samuel’s words to the people. Look and see if there is any correlation you can see between our lives today and how Israel was acting.

Are you chasing after worthless things? Our time is much too short for that. The Lord is the One who loves us and will deliver us. Put your trust and faith in Him.

Don’t get the raw end of a lousy trade. Follow Christ, He will take you on a life of unending worth.

The Context of Jeremiah 29:11 // God Has a Plan Even in the Midst of Pain

Ever watch the A-Team? In summer of 2010 an “A-Team” movie was released, and the catchphrase from that movie was from the A-Team leader, Hannibal. He was an elaborate planner, and he would say, “There’s a plan in everything, and I love it when a plan comes together.”

A very often quoted verse is Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

It’s a great verse and a great promise, but I think we are quick to miss the fullness of the meaning if we skip the context of the chapter and the book. We may even miss it all together if we aren’t careful.

It would be easy to look at this verse and say, “God promises me nothing but good times and I will not be harmed,” but that is not at all consistent with the rest of chapter 29 or the rest of the Bible.

The chapter is a letter sent by Jeremiah to the exiles in Babylon from Jerusalem. They have been taken to live in a land far away in a culture much different from their own. However, God assures them to live in hope, because their exile will not last forever. In fact, the Lord even tells the people to find peace in their current circumstances, which is a message for us to look to see how the Lord wants to use us where we are right now, no matter where that might be.

But verse 11 comes right in the middle after the promise of the exile’s end. What God is saying is that times will be tough but not impossible, and there is a great plan in all of this. And God’s plan is greater than any of the plans we could even make ourselves, so trust Him!

There is still another factor we have not considered, this letter is written specifically to the exiles in Babylon. It has an intended audience. When the Lord speaks through Jeremiah, “I know the plans I have for you,” he is referring directly to the exiles. The pronoun “you” is not speaking right to us. 

Now, am I saying God does not have a plan for your life? By no means! This verse shows us the love of God for His people and the power of His plans. Paul writes in Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Paul really captures the true meaning of Jeremiah 29:11 in his writings in Romans chapter eight. Through the pains of this life, God has a plan. And his plan is not just another plan – it’s the perfect one.

My hope for this post was not to derail anyone’s hope in Jeremiah 29:11 or make anyone feel bad for having it as a “life verse.” My hope was to show a fuller and deeper meaning to a promise that so many hold on to.

God walks with us and leads us through life – the valleys and the mountaintops. When you find yourself in the dark of the valley, trust in God’s plan. When you find yourself with the wind in your face on the top of that hill, trust in God’s plan.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” –Psalm 23:4a

Live a Life Worthy of the Gospel // Philippians 1:21-2:11

Just a few months ago, Arkansas head football coach Bobby Petrino was fired from his job for having an inappropriate relationship with a woman he worked with and lying about a motorcycle accident they were both involved in. The comments the Athletic Director Jeff Long made were gripping but paint for us a clear picture,

“He made the decision, a conscious decision, to mislead the public on Tuesday, and in doing so negatively and adversely affected the reputation of the University of Arkansas and our football program,” Long said, choking up at one point as he discussed telling players that their coach was gone. “In short, coach Petrino engaged in a pattern of misleading and manipulative behavior designed to deceive me and members of the athletic staff, both before and after the motorcycle accident.” (from ESPN.com)

We have seen similar circumstances where something like this has happened. A mistake is made that not only affects the individual but also the name and reputation of something larger. For Petrino, it was Arkansas. For Joe Paterno and others, it was Penn State. It happens with politicians, pastors, presidents, and all sorts of people.

For Christians, are names are directly tied to the name of Christ, the Messiah. Literally we have the title “Christian,” which means “follower of Christ,” or “belongs to Christ.” It’s like our family name, and how we live reflects on our family.

Taken by my friend David (@spaceportorange)

Paul urges the Christians in Philippi to “Live your life in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ.” He wants these people, and us, to bring honor to His name. Looking through these verses, we see how Paul lays out a few ways to live our lives in a way that honors Jesus and all that He has done for us.

First, while we have life, we have a chance to make a difference (vv. 1:21-26). Paul says that he knows life with Christ in eternity is so much better than this one, but he knows God has a plan and work for him right now. Paul can’t waste his life and the opportunities God has given him to be a part of the great work of the Kingdom.

Jesus said in John 10:10 that He came to bring us life to the fullest, and that’s a life following Him. There is no greater adventure, and no greater joy. What is in your life right now that God is calling you to? What do you need to say, “Yes, I will…” to?

Secondly, we live a life worthy of Jesus’ name when we stand together (vv. 28-30). The early Christians faced so many hardships and persecutions. Standing together was how they would face the hardships that would try to derail their faith and witness.

Sin is the great separator. Because we still battle sin, we face conflicts within our churches and Christian family as well. Living to honor Christ’s name means seeking unity and reconciliation. This is difficult and lifelong journey at times, but we must stand together. Are there sins or struggles separating you from the family? Is there anyone you need to make things right with to stand together?

Finally, living a life that honors Christ means having the mind of Christ (vv. 2:1-11). Looking through Gospels, we can see how Jesus stunned the world by how He lived and acted. Paul lays out the mind of Christ and His motivation in these few verses. When we seek to think and see the world like Christ, that changes how we live.

Looking for Christ in everything, or seeing the world through His eyes, changes the way we live. This means looking at things that really matter and living for the eternal, not the temporary. Church may be on Sunday, but we see God moving and where He is leading on Monday through Saturday. Our Christian life is not compartmentalized. We don’t retire from the Lord’s work. Christ and His Kingdom consume us. Ask yourself this question, what consumes you? What do you think about? What do you spend your energy and life on? What really matters to you?

Paul writes in 1:9-11 of this letter, “I pray that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment, so that you can determine what really matters and can be pure and blameless in the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

It’s a recurring theme throughout the letter, “what really matters.” In chapter two Paul writes about focusing on one goal. Chapter three centers on forgetting what is behind and pressing on what is ahead. In four we are challenged to fix our minds on what matters and is good.

Our lives will be worthy of the Gospel when we run after what really matters. What are you running after? May we live our whole lives to make His name great and make His name famous.

You’re So Vain, You Probably Think This Blog Is About You // Ecclesiastes

“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.”

These words were written by King Solomon, and they are from Ecclesiastes 1:2, but you will find them throughout the whole book. Ecclesiastes is such a good book for so many reasons, and the piercing principle we find is that our time is short, so we must focus on what really matters.

If you pull up your Twitter or Facebook feed, spend time with someone over lunch, or take a look in your neighbor’s garage, then you will probably find some evidence of what people think is important. We put our time, energy, and resources into what we value. Like Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)

Solomon is an incredible figure. When God tells him that he can have whatever he asks, Solomon asks for wisdom. He doesn’t want money or power – he wants wisdom. So the guy is pretty sharp. Not only is he wise, but he also decides to do a living experiment and try everything in the world, looking for what really brings pleasure and happiness. And you know what he finds in this life that really brings happiness?

Nothing.

Yep. He had money. He tried every kind of food. He had women – lots of women. He had power. He drank and drank. After experiencing everything someone could possibly experience, he says, “Then I considered all my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there is nothing to be gained under the sun.” (Eccl. 2:11)

Why would Solomon do this, and why on earth would God allow such a lifestyle? What Solomon now has is the “been there, done that” card. When you read Ecclesiastes and what Solomon had to say, he is not merely speaking in theory or speculation. This guy knows because he lived it.

So maybe you’re thinking, “Well, what is the point of life at all then?” Good question. While Solomon made a great point to say, “All is vanity,” we have to really examine what he was saying. He is really talking things that are temporary and fleeting. What really matters are things that last – like joy, family, and our relationship with God.

The consistent positives of Ecclesiastes are taking time to enjoy life, enjoy our family, and enjoy our Creator. Solomon warns of not trying to save and build and never enjoying the results of one’s hard work. As we have all heard, “You can’t take it with you,” which is a derivative of what Solomon is trying to tell us.

My point in writing this is to urge to stop and think about what are you are pursuing with your life. Even if you are 18 or 80, we need to ask ourselves if we are putting our time into things that really matter?

Take a few minutes to read Ecclesiastes. It’s only twelve chapters, which are not very long. Solomon tried to live out mistakes and failures so that we could learn and maybe avoid wasting our lives.

The last two verses are really powerful and pierce the soul. “13 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”

God and Politics // Proverbs 29:26

2012. Election year and the end of the world. Coincidence? Just kidding.

Politics in America right now is so crazy. It always has been in different ways, especially when religion is involved. During the Civil War churches were divided over slavery. Then, there was prohibition. Now the issues we face are international policies and economic responsibilities.

I’m not here to take a side, define an issue with Scripture, or anything like that. However, I do have something to say.

God has always been involved with our lives, and He has taken a role in politics too. Jesus supported paying taxes in Mark 12:17, even when all His disciples wanted Christ to lead Israel in reestablishing their nation. Peter and Paul wrote in their letters to honor the authorities and government, making our best to live at peace with everyone. After all, their point was that anyone with any power at all only had it because God gave it to them.

Our society is much different than the one of the 1st Century. Those folks didn’t vote for anyone. Their leaders came to power in different ways, and the citizens had to live with it. Today, we have a much different approach. We can vote, we can campaign, lobby, contribute, and even run for office if we want to. Our political system is designed for changes, and as Christians we can do that in a very respectful way.

And we get so so so tied up in all of this. I’m not saying that politics are not important, but I think for us as followers of Christ, they can be very distracting. In that same verse in Mark, Jesus said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

We place our hope, and ridiculous amounts of money, into people that we think will “save America.” If we can only get this guy elected or reelected, then all our problems will be solved. But, will they?

In the same way we place our hope in the government, we also tend to place our responsibilities. We either want the government to help the poor, or we want the government to stop giving the poor money and make them get a job. For either perspective, are we giving the poor money or helping them find jobs as people or churches?

I’m not saying stay away from politics. I’m not saying don’t vote. I’m definitely not saying don’t have a different opinion from a president, senator, or other politician.

My point really comes from this verse in Proverbs 29:26, “Many seek the face of a ruler,
but it is from the Lord that a man gets justice.”

We have to remember that while politics are important, they are not as important as the 24-hour news networks lead us to believe they are. I have great friends who are both politicians and work for politicians, and I believe they are doing great things, because that is their job.

Our job, as believers and followers of Christ, is to make a difference in the world around us. We have to remember that God is the One who will bring true change. What are we doing to support His campaign?

May your hope lie in Christ as the real Savior of our land, and may our lives shine that hope brightly.