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!

Singing Seems to Help a Troubled Soul – New Album, Feb. 1

Album cover by Emily Sloan

Album cover by Emily Sloan

I love Johnny Cash songs. It may sound cliche, but I really do. Ever since I heard “Walk the Line” on the radio years ago, I was hooked. He had an incredible way of writing lyrics that painted a real story that you could believe in. Interestingly enough, no many people know that he wrote more gospel songs than any other genre, and he even earned a Bible degree via correspondence while he was making music.

Every Cash fan has his or her favourite song, but mine has always been Daddy Sang Bass.” This song tells the story of growing up during the Great Depression, the hard work, and singing together on the front porch.

The chorus goes:
Daddy sang bass, mama sang tenor,
me and little brother joined right in there,
Cuz singing seems to help a troubled soul

That line, singing seems to help a troubled soul, has always captivated me. How true is that? King David knew this, and the psalms he wrote reflected this. In churches all over the world, people are incredibly passionate about the music sung every week. In my life, there is no other feeling than when I can sing my heart out, especially when I get to sing my heart to Christ who saved me.

IMG_7958

Photo by Shelby Hurst

In just a few days, I have the privilege of releasing my second album, “Singing Seems to Help a Troubled Soul.” This a huge honor, and I am extremely grateful to Cedric Hardimon & Church Boy Entertainment for the support and funding behind this project and for supporting me as an artist on the label. Thank you also to Dustin Ragland for your brilliant work on helping produce this album and your encouragement along the way.

Preparing for this album, I was looking for a thread to tie it all together. Over the past few years, I had been writing songs, and the few favourites made it to the recording, but I had no idea what to name the album. I loved this Cash lyric, but I didn’t have a song called that. So, I wrote one. It’s the first track on the album.

“Singing Seems To Help a Troubled Soul” is a short song about the challenges of life but the light of God shining through through the melodies and chords of His song. I even invited a group of my friends to sing on the chorus with me.

Truthfully, all of these songs deal with singing and the troubled soul. Every song I wrote came out of times in my life when I was longing for God’s song in my heart. And I hope that they minister to your heart as well.

Photo by Ethan Hickerson

Photo by Ethan Hickerson

There are several friends who sang with me on this album, including Robbie Seay, a worship leader and artist from Houston, TX, who sang on “Psalm 23,” Aaron Boyd sang on “Nothing Here or Yet to Come,” and he is from the band Bluetree who hails from Belfast, Northern Ireland. CedEnough, artist and CEO of Church Boy Entertainment, adds his talents to “Goodbye Yesterday,” and Laura Medcalf, a long time friend with an amazing voice joined me on “Love Has Come For Us.” A group of my friends sang on the first, third, and final songs on the album, and I was also excited to have my wife Courtney sing with me on “Walk With Me.”

The album releases on iTunes on February 1, and CDs will be available at the CD release at First Baptist Church in Chickasha on Sunday night, February 9, at 6:00pm. They will only be $5, and I will include an Irish jig for free. Please join us – we are not just singing songs but we are seeking to share the Gospel as well.

Over the next several weeks I will be releasing some blogs to talk about each song, so you can hear the heart behind the music. I’m a firm believer in my calling to be a minister and pastor to people, and the songs God gives me are a big part of that. You can watch tv or look in a music store and see plenty of songwriters, and I do not want to be just another one in the list. I want my songs to make a difference and have a purpose.

Thank you to all of you who have supported me through the years, my wonderful family, and to Jesus for giving me a reason to sing.

Thank you to Philip Sullivan (AKA Captain Awesome) for designing the album art, to Emily Sloan for the awesome album cover, and to Shelby Hurst and Ethan Hickerson for taking photos.

Photo by Shelby Hurst

Photo by Shelby Hurst

Also, thank you to Dustin Ragland for the drums, bass, and production on the album. Ethan Hickerson rocked the electric guitars, Kyle Forgety brought the banjo heat, and Laura Medcalf had brilliant background vocals.

And THANK YOU for listening and your support. To help this project keep going, and to help us make more in the future, there are a few things you can do to be a part:

Buy the album – Feb. 1 on iTunes or in person after Feb. 9. You could do both!
Share – It’s always more fun to share with everyone. Tell others about the music, buy them a CD, write tweets and Facebook posts! Anyway to spread the word helps so much.
Have us come play for you! I would love to come share some songs with you. We don’t eat much, are a lot of fun, and I’m just kidding we eat a lot.
Pray for us and our families.

For more info about Church Boy Entertainment, you can visit www.churchboy.com

I Hate Giving Blood, But…

I hate giving blood.blood

Don’t get me wrong, donating blood is an incredible thing that we can do to help others that really need it. I think it’s wonderful, our church supports it, and I have no beliefs or opinions against it.

My body, however, does not agree.

I am not exactly sure why my body freaks out when I give blood, but it is rather embarrassing. The first time I ever donated was in high school. I was sitting there, chatting along, and all of a sudden I got really dizzy and even more pale than I already am. Everyone started putting ice packs on me and buzzing about.

That’s pretty much how it goes every time. So when a blood drive rolls around every few months, I don’t get too excited. I really hate it, because I want to do it, but it’s hard.

However, there have been a few times when certain people I personally know have had urgent needs for blood or platelet donations, and my donation could really help them. In spite of my physiological aversions, I sign up and give. It’s never easy, and it usually ends up the same way every time. Still, there is an urgent need, and urgency demands action.

I’m not writing any of this to boast, because there anything for me to brag about really. But in the past several weeks our church family has been studying through Dr. Jeff Iorg’s book, Live Like a Missionary, which is challenging us to share the Gospel in our everyday lives. There are many reasons why we do not share Christ with those around us, but one that is huge is a lack of urgency.

Matthew 25:1-13 contains a parable told by Jesus of the Ten Virgins before a wedding. Five were prepared, and five were not. When the bridegroom came, the five who weren’t ready missed out. Jesus told this story because He wanted His disciples (and us) to always live with urgency and be ready. Verse 13 says, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

One way or the other, our time is short. Time is short for the people around us. We must have urgency when sharing the Gospel. It may not always be easy, but people NEED Jesus – they need what we know!

I hate giving blood, but I do it because there is an urgent need. Now, don’t read too much into the analogy, I DO NOT hate sharing the Gospel, but it hard for us sometimes. The Gospel is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me. The main point is that there needs to be a sense of urgency in our lives.

Maybe sharing your faith is hard for you, for whatever reason. But please do not let that stop you from sharing the life that Jesus has given you with others. Without Christ, people are dying, and we can share with them what gives life.

“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!

Christ Makes Things New // 2 Corinthians 5:17

2013. Somehow we survived the “end of the world” and other crazy things, but now, it is a new year. Isn’t new great?

This is a pic of my grandpa's 1944 Farmall tractor he completely restored from a pile of rust to look brand new.

This is a pic of my grandpa’s 1944 Farmall tractor he completely restored from a pile of rust to look brand new.

The New Year has always been somewhat interesting to grasp, especially when it seems to fall in the middle of everything we are involved in our lives. School starts in the Fall, many fiscal years begin in mid-Summer, but yet, our calendar begins on January 1.

Here in America, “new” is a concept that we understand but don’t always fully appreciate. We have a very “throw-away” based society where if something is overused or completed, we get rid of it. Also, we have so much freedom and opportunity with work and beliefs, that we can start a “new” career whenever we want.

So, for many of us, a “new beginning” may not be as incredible as it is to some.

Over the past 10 years, I have been very blessed to serve and do mission work in East Asia in a communist country. Several times I have traveled over there, but the first time the missionary I worked with taught our team what “new life” and “new beginnings” meant to these people.

For them, communism traps economically, spiritually, and geographically for the most part. Some younger students may travel to a university, but generally where you are and what you do stays the same. Not everyone is a communist. In fact, one has to be a part of the communist party to have higher paid jobs and power, but it restricts your lifestyle even more. IMG_1438

So, when our conversations would turn to Jesus, we would talk about John chapter 3 and the conversation Nicodemus about being “born again.” We would also show them 2 Corinthians 5:17,

17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

The idea of a life with Jesus being brand new with a new beginning was simply astounding. It wasn’t a rescue from the life that surrounded them, but it was a life with hope, purpose, and love.

For me, I had never really appreciated that idea until then. There are many days when I even forget it. Jesus has made me brand new. He hasn’t just cleaned up the old me – He paid the price with His life and purchased me with His blood.

Whatever your past year or years has been like, or wherever you are right now, do you long for a new beginning? Do you ever feel like no matter how hard you try you just can’t get things right?

Give your heart and life to Jesus. Let him make you brand new. Baptism is an incredible symbol of this. Before Christ, our lives are above the water, then we are submerged and we die to our old life, then we are raised out of the water to walk in new life with Him. IMG_2654

Doesn’t that sound amazing and refreshing? Even if you are already a Christ follower, today you can make that commitment and resolution to walk in the new life Christ has given you.

Life with Christ is full of new hope, purpose, and love. Walk with Him this year and the many to come!

ps…Do you have a story of new life in Christ? Leave a comment below!

pps…I would also like to hear some of your favourite new things: like new car smell, new clothes, etc. Leave a comment below!

A New Year’s Resolution You Can Keep: Be Who You Say You Are

Deuteronomy 6:4-6 – 4″Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.

James 2:14-17 – 14What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

James 3:13 – 13Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.

When I was in the 7th grade, there was a girl I liked. Being the 7th grade Casanova I was, I asked a friend to ask her out for me. Smooth right? I know. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to go in 7th though?

This is side by side picture one of my friends sent me on Twitter, saying how much I looked like Martin Freeman, who plays the Bilbo the Hobbit. Or maybe I'm really him?

This is side by side picture one of my friends sent me on Twitter, saying how much I looked like Martin Freeman, who plays the Bilbo the Hobbit. Or maybe I’m really him?

Well, surprisingly, she said yes, and we were “a couple.” However, after about a week, we called it off (more she than me). We talked on the phone once maybe, but we never went out or did couple-like things. I mean, come on, we were in 7th grade! Still, there was no point in being boyfriend and girlfriend in title only. I’m also going to say she had something against gingers, but that could just be my bitterness talking.

How silly would it be to say “I’m married,” or “we’re dating,” but never do anything to demonstrate it? What if I said I was a pro basketball player but never played any games or put on the uniform? What if you needed emergency surgery, I stepped in and said, “Hello, I’m the Doctor,” and you asked me how many surgeries I had performed to which I answered, “absolutely none”? What would your reaction be?

The principle is the same for any relationship. Imagine if you got married to someone, but you never talked, never spent time together, or never did anything that showed people you were a married couple. What kind of marriage would that be? Husband and wife would be mere titles without any significance.

Our relationship to God is quite similar. So many of us will claim the title “Christian,” and yet our lives do not demonstrate a walk with Christ. Quite simply, many of us are not who we say we are. I have been there before – I really think we all have. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

In the verses above, we see a cross-section of the Bible that goes from the Old Testament to the New. Deuteronomy 6: the “greatest commandment” as Jesus put it in the Gospels, and also known as the shema to Jews, tells us to love God with everything we are – our heart and soul and might. This is quite interesting considering where this idea is found. These words appear in different forms all throughout the book of Deuteronomy, interwoven between instructions God gives His people to live by.

The Old Testament is often considered nothing but rules and regulations, and many consider that to the “old way of life” before Jesus came. But it was never about just doing this or not doing that in order to be a good Yahweh worshipper. A relationship with God back then was just the same as it is now – in the heart. HOWEVER, all those instructions surrounding those incredible words of “love the Lord your God,” are how we demonstrate that relationship with God. It’s how a life with God is lived out!

How we live for The Lord is an external sign of the internal relationship with Him in our hearts.

James, the half-brother of Jesus, writes words that have long been studied by the Church. He says that faith without works is dead – a Christian that does not really follow Christ is a Christian in title only! And as he continues on in chapter three, you should be able to tell who is and isn’t a Christian by how one lives his life!

In other words: be who you say you are.

Does what we do save us and make us right with God? No. God has always been interested in our faith from our heart first, but what makes that faith real?

A real faith is one where God makes a difference in every aspect of your life – from how you talk to your parents, kids, or wife to how you act at school to what kind of business person you are. Christ followers are not trying to just be seen, but a real faith can’t help but be the “light to the world,” shining through the darkness.

As the New Year approaches, you may be considering making some sort of resolution. This year, make one that really counts. Be who you say you are. If you follow Christ, then make that relationship with God real by how you life with and for Him.

What Made David So Special? // 1 Sam. 13:14, 16:7, Acts 13:22

Lately I’ve been asking myself this question, what made David so special? He is described as a “man after God’s own heart,” and yet there were so many things David did wrong. He committed adultery, murder, lied, and even battled some pride issues. He even writes in Psalm 51 that “surely I was sinful since birth” and asked for a new heart to be created in him by God.IMG_4481

So how was he a man after God’s own heart? Despite all his faults, God never left him, and David was always a huge figure in the history of Israel. The answer lies in what really set David apart from so many others.

When it came to the Greatest Commandment, David nailed it. Deuteronomy 6:4-5 has written the “Greatest Commandment” which is also quoted by Christ in the Gospels, “4″Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

If you look through the history of all the Kings of Israel, David clearly sets himself apart by his worship. He truly loves the Lord with everything. He never worships a foreign god, consults a medium, or tries to be God. He had no other gods before him.

There are only a few other kings that come along – Asa, Hezekiah, Josiah, and a few others – that display this some type of attitude and behavior, but David is the shining example of it. And what set the other kings apart was their actions concerning the worship of other gods in the land. Asa was even described in 2 Chronicles 14 & 15 as serving the Lord “wholeheartedly.” He had an amazing prayer in 2 Chr. 14:11,

“Then Asa cried out to the LORD his God: ‘LORD, there is no one besides You to help the mighty and those without strength. Help us, LORD our God, for we depend on You, and in Your name we have come against this large army. Yahweh, You are our God. Do not let a mere mortal hinder You.’”

So what’s the point of all this? What amazes me about David is the dynamic of his relationship with God. In spite of his moral shortcomings, God never leaves Him. Times got tough and David even underwent discipline, but God never left Him. What David did was a lower priority to the condition of his heart.

God looks at the heart first. He does not ignore what people do or don’t do, but those things come second. Notice what Isaiah 29:13 says, “And the Lord said:
“Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me…” God is not upset with what His people are doing; He cannot stand the difference between their hearts and lives.

What does this mean for us today: What or who is number one in your heart? What drives your life?

We are not going to be perfect. We are going to mess up, and God knows that. God knew David would mess up, and boy did he! But he still sought the Lord first, and that is what drove his life. When David did mess up, he turned back to the Lord and not something else to make things right.

Our hearts need to be our number one concern before we try to “live better.” God wants us to live for Him, but He wants our hearts first.

That is what made David so special: God had his heart. That is why he was a man “after God’s own heart.”

Who has your heart?