Expository Snippets: Fore-Loved for Trial

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“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father…”

 (1 Peter 1:1-2a)

 

Probably the most encouraging feeling you can have when going through a trial is to know that you are loved in the midst of it; to have your church, family and friends affectionately surround you out of the genuineness of their hearts.

As wonderfully encouraging as these relationships are, there is an even greater encouragement in knowing that the God of the universe, who ordains the entire order and outworking of all things, loves you.

While the early church saw many trials, Peter wanted to remind them of God’s love for them. He does this by reminding them of God’s foreknowledge.

In the Bible, the term foreknowledge isn’t a word to describe God’s knowledge of everything that will happen in the world, though we know that he is omniscient, or “all knowing”. As Israelites would have understood it, the term foreknowledge isn’t merely God’s fore-knowing all events, but is his fore-loving of a particular people.

So Peter, in essence, is urging his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to be emboldened by God’s election and fore-loving of them in the midst of trials and persecution. His hope would have been that his readers breathe a sigh of relief as they see, “To those who are elect exiles… according to the foreknowledge of God the Father,” in the opening paragraph.

Peter was carrying a large message to them with a few words:

“Remember that you have been elected, chosen by God to receive his great love,” he says. “Chosen for salvation in Christ from before the foundations of the world. You didn’t do anything to deserve his love, yet he loved you as his own child before you were born! He sent his Son to live, die, and rise from the dead for you! Because he did all of that you can be sure that he is with you and he loves you no matter what trial you face!”

As Christians, we are fore-loved by God, not for comfort, but for trial: Saved by grace and for good works, to walk as Christ walked in joyful obedience to God the Father, bearing a cross in anticipation of a crown.

In his trials and suffering, Jesus had a perfect knowledge of the Father’s love for him. In fact, Peter uses the same word, foreknowledge, to describe the Father’s relationship with Jesus in verse 20. This was Jesus’ comfort, it’s the early church’s comfort and this should be our comfort, too.

 For the glory of God alone,

- James 

Expository Snippets: Texan Exile

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“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia…” (1 Peter 1:1)

 

When I moved from Illinois to Texas five years ago, I was intrigued by the state pride that runs through the veins of the locals. Sure, I’d heard of phrases like, “Don’t mess with Texas,” and “Texas is God’s country”, but I didn’t expect to see the Lone Star State flag waving at every gas station, school, and public building. Ironically, as I’m writing this, Miley, my seven-year old daughter, brought me a picture of an American flag and Texas flag she colored at school. Down here, you can’t have one without the other.

But even though Texas pride caught me off guard initially, I’ve grown to love this element of living here. It’s even rubbed off on me in some ways.

However, as a Christian, my Texas pride needs to be kept in check by God’s word.

Though Texas is a great state, it isn’t my home. I’m merely a traveler, an exile in a foreign land. My home is with my Triune God in heaven.

This was the apostle Peter’s encouraging reminder to first century Christians who were scattered abroad in places they wouldn’t consider “home”. He reminded them with the term “exile” that as chosen children of God who have been adopted through the blood of Jesus Christ, their hopes and comforts shouldn’t be placed in this world, but rather in the imperishable reward of eternal life that Jesus purchased for them.

God’s timeless word calls all believers to the same exile attitude today. The natural disposition of an exile is longing to be home. Christians long to be at home with Christ. Our hopes and comforts don’t live and die here on earth, but they live with Christ in heaven.

With that said, we need to keep in mind that an exile attitude isn’t an indifferent attitude. It’s actually the opposite. Because we’re only passing through on earth for a short time, we should passionately proclaim the gospel with our lips and our lives, seeking to bring others into the inheritance of eternal life that Jesus won for sinners through his life, death and resurrection. Our great Missionary-God calls us, elect exiles, to the task of making disciples of Jesus Christ while in this foreign land.

Illinois wasn’t my home. Texas is not my home. Heaven is my home. And I long to bring others there with me.

Christian, wherever you’re reading this, I hope you’re encouraged that you’re reading as an exile. I hope that you’ll use your time on earth to know Christ and to make him known, and look forward to seeing your Savior face to face and by his grace, bring others to see his face as well.

 

For the glory of God alone,

-James  

6 Thoughts About God While Staring Into Space

The night sky has a way of pulling me into a trance. It always has.

Growing up, I loved fall nights because the sky seemed to be the darkest this time of year. Before bed in my quiet Illinois home, I would close my bedroom door, shut off my lamp and open up my window so that the fall breeze would tickle my neck and permeate my room with the smell of red, yellow, and orange leaves. The only sound was the occasional rolling gust of wind and rustling trees across our yard. 

And in those quiet moments, I would stare, stare into the night sky.    

The sea of black speckled with twinkling stars and the glowing, neon moon would take my attention captive.  

It’s like the sky’s mystery would wrap me into stillness.

I’m sure you’ve felt this way also, while marveling at the grandeur that seems to be on display just for you.

Last night, I appreciated the night sky, space, for the first time in a long while. I was listening to a new spin-off podcast on my way to work called, “Calvinist Batman Reads Systematic Theology” (I know, awesome name), in which the host of the show (Perhaps, Bruce Wayne) is simply reading through “Reformed Dogmatics” by Geerhardus Vos. Towards the end of my commute, Vos was quoted saying,

“Behind the finite we comprehend, the infinite exists. It is with the infinite God as it is with space. However far we proceed in our imagination, we know that we have not yet arrived at the end, that we could still take one more step.” 

So for the rest of the night I thought about God, space, why he created it, and what he wants us to know about himself through it. I jotted down a more extensive list, but here are a few, simple, thoughts about God while staring into space.

 

1)   Space is knowable, but only in part. God is knowable, but only in part.

We know some facts about space, sure. But to have an extensive knowledge of space would require us to travel from one end to the other, from north to south, east to west. Astronomists can study details of the space they have access to, but there’s no telling how large it is.

The same is true of God. We know about God what he, in his condescension, has revealed to us about himself. But we can’t know anything more than what he reveals to us in his Word, in nature, and in his Son, Jesus. As limited, finite beings, to quote Vos, “…we cannot give a definition of God, but only a description,” because if we were able to define God it would be as to say we are the higher knowledge and power than God himself. He is God and we are human. If we could stand on our puny planet and know everything about God, he wouldn’t be worth worshipping.

“Behold, God is great, and we know him not; the number of his years is unsearchable.” (Job 36:26)

 

2)   Space is vast. How much more vast it’s Creator must be.

We cannot begin to comprehend the immense depths of space. When we look into the night sky we know that beyond our view are bursting stars, massive planets, and swirling galaxies. Even that is just a pinch of what space holds. Its vastness is beyond comprehension.

God is the artist of space. There are depths to space that no human eye can see and yet he’s created it for his glory. He doesn’t need creatures like you and I to gawk at his work and give it approval. No, he takes pleasure in the work of his hand. The depths of space are further than even a computable hypothesis, so then the Creator of this space must be larger than space itself.

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1)

 

3)   We can’t comprehend space, yet we study it. We can’t comprehend God, but we must study his Word.

 We’ve been learning about space since we were in elementary school. Really, all throughout our education we study space in some way, shape or form. Even now, we’re excited to hear of new discoveries from scientists who unearth new information in our universe. Even though we know that space can’t be fully known, we still study it.

We should have the same attitude in our study of God, particularly through his Word, the Bible. I’ve heard many Christians and non-Christians say that we can’t understand God, so there is no point to trying to understand him. We might as well just leave him be. I’m just going to say it bluntly. You’re wrong. It’s true that we cannot fully comprehend God. Having a full understanding of God isn’t the call of Christians, but having a growing understanding of God is. Ultimately, to know God, in part yet in truth, is to know his Son, Jesus Christ whom he sent into the world to bring finite beings like you and me into a real, personal relationship with himself.  

“And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)

 

4)   Space is a creative masterpiece. God is the Originator and Supplier of creativity.

We’re all just a quick Google search away from planets, galaxies, shooting stars and supernovas (wait, don’t leave the page yet!). Outer space is a creative masterpiece. When we look at beautiful paintings, we don’t hesitate to attribute the creativity to a creative mind.

God is the Creator of creativity. He is the Originator. Our God is a creative God. Who would dream up such a beautiful and terrifying universe as the one we live in where massive planets are spinning and rotating around a giant star? Who could be so thoughtful to color the galaxies when yet there was no color in the world? Our God is the master Creator through whom all creativity flows.

“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:3-4) 

 

5)   Space is an avenue that God uses to meet man with his beauty. Jesus Christ is the fullness of our beautiful God in human flesh, and lived among us.

The features of space capture our attention. The night sky is a beautiful sight to behold. In fact, we don’t know what it’s like to be without its magnificence every night. Oftentimes we take for granted the beauty that constantly surrounds us.  

God has displayed his eternal beauty in the stars and the sky so that we would know that he is far more beautiful than we could imagine. Yet, our beautiful God humbled himself and stepped into human history to become a servant to all people. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the image of the invisible God, was beaten, torn, spit on, mocked and nailed to a cross for the sins of those who love him. God chose, in his mercy to save sinners through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Treasure of all existence. All of creation, the sun, moon, and galaxies glorify the Jewel around which they swing and sing, that lovely Jewel, the Lord Jesus Christ.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 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… that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:15-16, 18b-20)

 

6)   The stars in the sky are countless. God uses the stars as a picture of the great number of sinners that God has saved from his wrath.

We’ve all made trips away from the city lights just so we could get an idea of how many stars the sky holds. If you’re like me, you’re amazed every time you stand under the clusters of twinkling lights. The number of stars in the sky goes well beyond what we can fathom. They seem countless.

In the Bible, God uses the great number of stars in the sky as a metaphor for the number of sinners he would shower his mercy upon. All people are sinners. All people rebel against God, break his commandments, and want to live their own lives separate from him. The wages of sin is death meaning that the moment you first sinned, you earned death for yourself. Because of this, God, who is holy and perfect will rightfully judge your life based on his justice. And if we are left to ourselves, all of us will spend eternity in torment, being punished for our sins.

But there is good news. God, in his mercy and grace, sent his Son Jesus Christ to live a perfect life for us, and to die a death that he didn’t deserve in our place, for our sin. He took God’s righteous wrath for sin on himself while hanging on the cross. But this isn’t the end. God rose Jesus from the dead three days later as a proclamation that Jesus is victorious over Satan, sin and death and he is now seated at the right hand of God the Father.

Jesus has accomplished the work of salvation for sinners. It is finished. But in order to receive the free gift of grace that is held out to you in Jesus Christ, you must turn from your sins and believe that he died on the cross so that your sins, past, present and future are wiped away from your record. If you haven’t done this, I beg of you to do so now, to plead for God’s mercy, repent and make Jesus the Treasure of your life by believing him and living for him. Ultimately, only the Holy Spirit can give you a heart that trusts that Jesus laid his life down for you. He makes blind sinners see the light of the gospel, and he never fails in doing so for those that God shows mercy to. Every one he has chosen to save has and will be saved.

Reader, I want to encourage you to read the New Testament book of John, which was written so that you would believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. Pray and ask God daily to give you a new heart that loves him, and spend time reading about the person and work of Jesus.    

From before the foundations of the beautiful universe that we live in, with all of its complexities and wonders, God mercifully chose to save sinners through the person and work of Jesus Christ, which is the greatest wonder of all, and will be the mystery that we marvel at for all eternity.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundations of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1:3-6)

 

The night sky, space, the vast depth of beauty that we see each night is God’s creation for his glory. He uses it to tell us about himself and what he has done for us. The next time you glance out at the night sky, think about its Creator. Think about our wonderful God who wants us to know him and then, join with all of creation in singing his praises.

All glory be to God alone.

- James

Christian Parent : Apologist

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“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” – 1 Peter 3:13-16

 

It’s become my conviction as a father of two elementary age girls that Christian parents must become apologists.

I know what you’re thinking.

“What (the heck) is an apologist?”   

Despite what the term “apologist” sounds like, this post isn’t about us parents stepping up our apology game when we sin against our children (though I could probably write a manifesto on that topic based on my own experience). An apologist is one who makes a defense for what they believe. For the Christian, to be an apologist is to take up your shield as a defender of the Christian faith. 

Better yet, a good Christian apologist isn’t only going to defend the faith. They’re also going to pierce the attacking worldview with the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17).

Becoming more learned in apologetics is beneficial, and I’d say, necessary for all Christians. However, I believe it’s especially important, for those of us who are raising up little disciples under our roofs, to have a basic apologetic foundation to stand on.

As Christian parents, we have the privilege of teaching our children to love and trust Jesus Christ in the everyday stuff of life. We get the honor of opening up God’s Word and speaking his truth in our homes. We get the pleasure of hearing our kids offer up their prayers to Almighty God every night. We’re also the primary targets for onslaughts of questions regarding these things. 

One trait I love about my daughters is their curiosity. They always seem to have a bottomless barrel of questions for my wife and I to answer during family devotions at the dinner table. Several of the questions deal with what many apologists have to work through. A portion of what they ask is simply drawn out of their own curiosity. For instance:

 

“Why did God put Adam and Eve in the Garden when he knew they would sin?”

 

“Why does God allow bad things to happen?”

 

Other questions are formed from outside influences:  

 

“How do we know that our God is the only true God?”

 

“Why do we believe in God but other people don’t?”

 

These are important moments in our home. Our daughters are asking us questions that a critical culture is asking them. They’re asking us questions their closest friends ask them. And they’re asking us questions that they’re struggling to reconcile themselves. For their sake, we should be prepared so that these questions don’t leave us shaken, and scrambling for answers.

It’s important for disciple-making parents to offer a defense for what we believe under our roof. It’s important for our children to know the reason as to why we say, “but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15). It’s important because appropriately handling apologetic questions will influence the types of disciples our children become. Here are three ways the Parent-Apologist will influence their children in discipleship:

 

1) Our children will be fearless disciples.

A couple of years ago, my older daughter was convinced that there were monsters in her closet. Every now and again she’d have me check to make sure there was nothing lurking in the dark, 3-foot (tops) abyss. Oddly enough, I’m finding it pretty easy to draw parallels between the monster in the closet to the child and the monster of Atheism, or Mormonism, or Islam to the Christian. We have this hanging fear that when the opposing worldview comes out from the closet it’s going to eat us alive.

If that’s you, don’t feel bad. I think all Christians, including myself, have been at that place at some point in our lives. But be encouraged! What you’ll notice as you learn apologetics is that the biblical worldview can’t be broken. There will be moments where a skeptical question will get your heart racing a bit, but a Christian apologetic that begins with God’s Word as a pre-suppositional truth will always provide an answer because God’s Word is truth (Psalm 119:160; John 17:17).

How does this relate to your kids? Imagine a time when your child comes home from school and asks whether or not the Egyptian gods are real. Then, you take them to Isaiah 46 and provide a biblical based apologetic for them. They’re encouraged and head back to school stronger in their Christian faith. A couple of months later, the science teacher says the world began by a process of evolution, and your child asks why they hadn’t heard that in church. Then, you open up Genesis 1 and walk through the creation account with them, reminding them that God’s Word is truth. Maybe you even add in some apologetic material that you’ve studied on your own, pointing to Intelligent Design. Your child is encouraged and they head back to school.

Do you see the pattern? If Christian parents can be apologists in our own homes, we can provide answers to our children’s questions that encourage them in their faith. They’ll learn that they don’t need to be fearful of skeptical worldviews. Rather they can be confident in the Word of God.

 

2) Our children will be friendly disciples. 

Have you ever noticed that when you feel confident defending a position, you’re able to have peaceful conversations with people of different opinions?

I grew up in Chicago during the legendary Chicago Bulls basketball dynasty in the 90’s. I have no problem saying that Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player to ever play the game. However, not everyone agrees on this. At one point, hearing arguments in favor of guys like Lebron James, or Kevin Durant, would annoy me. I’d raise my voice a little bit, get agitated, etc. But the more comfortable I became with my position against a variety of arguments, the more friendly I became in conversation.  

That is what we want for our children. We want them to be friendly disciples of Jesus Christ. We want them to defend the faith with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). Now, for them, defending the faith may start as simple as, “Well, I believe in God because the Bible tells me that he is real.” Though they haven’t learned the many defenses for the existence of God, they have kindly defended belief in God, and given a reason for their belief in God, which is through his revelation in the Bible. I hope as parents we would celebrate those bold moments with our kids!

The kindness they show to unbelievers will, in part, be a result of our apologetic approach to these questions at home. Our children will be confident in God’s Word, and friendlier disciples because of it.

 

3) Our children will be faithful disciples.

Christian parents, our duty is to raise our children as disciples of Jesus Christ (Deuteronomy 6:6-7; Ephesians 5:4). As tender hearted as Christ is towards our little ones (ultimately, his little ones), the truth is that they are still disciples of Jesus. Every disciple of Jesus has the call to, “deny [themselves], take up [their] cross, and follow [Jesus]” (Matthew 16:24). In short, this means that we treasure Jesus more than anything else in our lives including our friends, our comfort, our popularity, and ourselves.

As Christians, we want to teach our children to strive for peace with their peers. But when peace and truth conflict, we must choose Christ, and fall on the side of truth, speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

Faithfulness to Christ isn’t always easy. It definitely won’t get easier for your children as they grow up from elementary school, to middle school, to high school, and to college. That’s why it’s important to start teaching them now how to defend the Christian faith. We do this most effectively by being defenders of the faith ourselves.

The more often we lead our children back to the Bible in skeptical scenarios, the more likely they’ll begin to do it on their own.

 

In an age of skepticism, our kids need us to be apologists. It’s a tall task. It can feel overwhelming if you’ve never looked into apologetics before. But there are easy ways you can become familiar with apologetic conversations. I began a few years ago by listening to a topical debate everyday on my drive to and from work. If you’re a stay at home parent, listen to a podcast while you’re doing laundry or dishes. There are many resources out there to help. I’ve listed a few that I highly recommend that are Biblically based and great for both starters and seasoned parent apologists.

 

To God be the glory.

 

-James  

 

Christian Apologetic resources I’ve found helpful:

https://answersingenesis.org

http://apologiaradio.com

https://www.premierchristianradio.com

https://www.aomin.org

Step-Dads and the Sovereignty of God

“Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD,

the fruit of the womb a reward.

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior

Are the children of one’s youth.

Blessed is the man

Who fills his quiver with them!

He shall not be put to shame

When he speaks with his enemies in the gate.”

- Psalm 127:3-5

 

I have two beautiful daughters who are six and ten years old.

I’ve been their daddy for 14 months.

When Cortni and I got married, I knew that I would spend my life loving her. I knew that I’d spend my life loving her daughters, who are now my daughters. But I never knew that my heart would burst in my chest every time they smile at me across the dinner table, or say, “Jesus, thank you,” when we pray before bed, or when I think about them getting married one day.  

They have a special flame that melts my heart in a unique way.

But, I have to admit that the last 14 months have brought difficult moments for me.

Since getting married, Cortni and I have been through a whirlwind of lifestyle changes. Early on, we looked into the process of adoption so that the girls can legally take my last name, but we’ve both agreed that to move forward in the adoption process right now could be a little chaotic and unhealthy for our family. So we’re patiently waiting for God to give us clear direction in the decision to move forward.

This means that for the time being, I’m (legally speaking) my daughters’ step-dad.

And to be honest, I’m not too fond with the “step” before the dad.

The title itself makes me feel like less of a father. In fact, if you don’t know our family, you wouldn’t see a single trace of me in my daughters. They don’t have my DNA. I am absent from their biological makeup. They don’t have my last name. They have, however, inherited my fascination with werewolves but I’m not sure that’s a good thing.  

Anyways, the “step-dad” title has been a cause of insecurity for me. It’s made me wonder what people think of me. Do they think of me as less of a dad? Do my girls know that I love them just like any other good parent loves their biological children? Does my wife ever see me as less of parent?

Personally, I have no ground to base those thoughts on. They’re built solely on the sand of insecurity. I am thankful, however, that each time my insecurities cause me to sink, my heavenly Father pulls me up and sets me on the foundation of his sovereignty.

No, I’m not my daughters’ biological father, yet from before the foundations of the world, God ordained that I would be their daddy. I’m not a plan-B dad. I’m plan-A. I wasn’t God’s second option for our family. I was his first. He’s given me the gift of being daddy to two wonderful girls. And even though I wouldn’t coin myself as “a gift” to my daughters, God has given me to them as a gift, as well.

God has sovereignly called me to be my girls’ father. This is just as true for you and your children as it is for me, and should move us in three ways: In humility, in responsibility, and in enjoyment.

 

How God’s Sovereignty Addresses Step-Dads

  

1) God’s sovereignty requires humility

When Cortni and I got married, I had a lovely picture in my mind of a family of four laughing, loving, and growing in the Lord together. Honestly, I thought the transition from single guy, to husband and father would be a relatively smooth one.

 

2 teaspoons of daughter

1 tablespoon of mother

Stir.

Add 1 tablespoon of husband/father

Stir.

Bake in oven 15 minutes

Pull out of oven and enjoy your big, happy family.

(Yes, this is how I thought baking worked also.)

 

The changeover seemed simple to me. And though God has been abundantly gracious to us over the last 14 months, I was incredibly misinformed in my thinking.

Early on, as many selfish single guys are prone to do, I thought mostly about myself. I was wrapped up in my transition from being single to married with children. Because of that, I didn’t think much about how the transition from “James” to “Daddy” would affect my daughters. I also failed to think about how the transition would affect my wife. I thought about myself first, when I should have, as Christ commands in the Scriptures, thought about myself last.

I realize now (a little late) that one of the most profound ways I could have served my family would’ve been by understanding how difficult even a good transition can be. This requires humility.

A step-dad is not a savior.

I say that as someone whose pride has been beaten to a pulp by God’s rod of discipline.

If you think you’re a solution, you’ll find yourself to be a problem, real quick. 

Yes, God, in his perfect plan has called me to be my daughters’ father, but not to step into the gap of fatherhood to “solve everything” with my presence. Rather, he called me to step into the gap of fatherhood to serve them. He’s done the same for you as well.

I want to encourage you to take time to study how Christ, God in flesh, the only Savior of the world, stepped into humanity and served you through his death. He’s filled the gap of Savior by becoming a servant. Step-dads, we fill the gap of fatherhood by becoming servants, in order to point our children to the only true Savior.  

 

2) God’s sovereignty demands responsibility

Step-dads don’t have less responsibility as a parent because of a prefix before “dad”. Since God has called you to be the father of your children, you have the same responsibility to love them, play with them, get to know them, provide for them, and teach them, as any other parent does.

However, I would say that this requires a little more work at the beginning of your parenting than that of a biological parent who’s involved from birth.

My girls became my daughters when they were five years old and nine years old. I missed some years. On some days I feel like I’m trying to play catch-up, not only as a parent but also as a dad who wants to have a relationship with his daughters.

As a step-parent, I have plenty to learn about my daughters and it’s my responsibility, not theirs, to engage them so that our relationship can grow. I should be the conversation starter, the date initiator, and the first one to say, “I love you.” Being a father is a wonderful privilege that God has graciously given to me; one that I didn’t have 14 months ago. It’s my responsibility to create space for my daughters’ and my relationship to flourish, and trust, that as a result, God will do the flourishing.

Step-dads, pursuing your children relationally will be the key to unlocking your influence spiritually and authoritatively. In order for us to teach our children about Christ’s love, we must model that love to them. Also, we should make it easy for our children to respect us as the Scriptures say (Ephesians 6:1-2), by being parents that deserve respect, as the Scriptures also say (Ephesians 6:4).

God has sovereignly given us the joyous responsibility of pursuing, loving, and teaching our children. Let us work at it with all of our hearts.

 

3) God’s sovereignty creates enjoyment  

Step parenting has a unique set of challenges. I’m not sure if a week has gone by in the last 14 months that I haven’t felt inadequate as a father in some way, shape or form.

But in those moments I have to remind myself to cast my burdens on to the Lord, and he will sustain me (Psalm 55:22). He carries me from grace to grace.

God hasn’t chosen me to be the father of my girls just so I can ultimately fail my family. There have been and there will be times when I do fail them, or sin against them, or try my best and fall short. But God hasn’t given me a deadline to be a perfect dad. In fact, he’s never put that burden on me, even though I tend to put it on myself. 

This is where all of the challenges of being a step-dad can become enjoyments.

I have a gracious heavenly Father who is pleased with the work he is completing in me, even when I fail. As a parent, I can also be pleased with the work God is doing in my girls even when they fail. As a family, we can enjoy the short time we have on this earth together, being molded into the image of Christ. God has sovereignly given us to one another so that we would grow in grace together and show grace to one another. And in this, we can relax and enjoy God’s providence.

Step-dad, have you enjoyed being daddy to your children?

Have you played with them before you’ve had a chance to do anything else in your morning? Have you had silly “would you rather” conversations with them? Have you read to them in British accents? Have you taken them out for ice cream? Have you laughed with them after having to discipline them? Have you kissed them before bed after a button-pushing type of day? Have you thanked God for them before your head hits the pillow?

Have you enjoyed the gift of being a step-dad?

If you haven’t, start today. Make memories with them. Enjoy your children that God has given you to love.

Step dads, God builds families. Though he hasn’t built your family “traditionally”, he’s built your family intentionally. He’s decreed you as the head of your family in the eternal council of his will. He’s done so for the good of those that love him and for his glory. Be humble. Take responsibility. And enjoy it.

 

Side Note) A Quick Word to Wives

Wives, your husband needs to know that you’re his biggest fan as he steps into the daddy role. He needs to know that you trust him to help you raise your children. He needs to know that you’re proud of him. He needs to know that you’re there for him.

I can’t tell you how wonderful my wife has been in my 14 months of being a dad to her girls. She’s been patient with me and patient with them. She’s been a support system for me and a support system for them. She’s been my greatest ally, and our daughters’ greatest ally, also. Cortni has been the glue of our family, bonding us together as a unit.

When we said our, “I do’s” Cortni vowed herself to me, and her daughters to me as well. I can’t imagine how difficult that was for her, even though she’s only shown confidence in me. Cortni has prayed for me, cared for me, challenged me, and loved me at my worst. She’s taught me how our girls need to be loved, spoken to, and disciplined. She’s been my rock and I love her for it.

-James

When a Sinner Makes a Sandwich

When dealing with food, I may have the pickiest daughters this side of Fort Worth.

Well, at least this side of the kitchen.

The other day, my six year old daughter, Miley, asked me to start cutting off the “outsides” of the peanut butter and jelly I make for her lunch everyday.

When she made this request, my head cocked to the side like my Golden Lab used to do when I’d make barking noises. Partnered with a mumbled, “Yeah, babe,” was the thought, “Really, honey? You can’t deal with the crust on the sandwich? Just start eating it in the center like you always do.”

I continued a dialogue with myself as she ran in her room to play with her toys.

“Do you know what that means for me? That means I will spend about ten seconds of my day, five days a week, for the rest of the school year cutting off the edges of a sandwich. That’s fifty seconds a week (Except when Cortni makes the lunches, then it’s slightly shorter)!”

After a few moments went by, and I cooled down, I was pretty disturbed by how quickly my selfish nature moved from my heart to my head. It was as if I had no barrier whatsoever. In the blink of an eye, I went from being a thoughtful daddy to a selfish jerk.

“I’ll have a better attitude next time,” I told myself. But just as I was ready to move on from that pitiful moment, the Holy Spirit pressed grief into my heart (2 Corinthians 7:10). Surrendering to His tension, I stopped what I was doing and allowed Him to dig around in the deep well of my heart. As He worked, I was reminded of Christ’s pleasure, Christ’s pain, and Christ’s promise, all for a broken sinner.

1) Christ’s pleasure to show me my sin through my daughter.

Though Christ isn’t pleased with our sin, He is pleased to use our sin to lead us to repentance. Paralyzed in the kitchen and convicted of my selfish attitude, I began to think about Christ. And as I thought about Him, I felt the warmth of His smile melt the cold of my sin. I felt His pleasure. He was pleased to show me where I failed so that I could repent.

My sinful attitude towards Miley was deplorable and indeed pathetic. But, graciously, Christ employed my selfish attitude as the finger that turned on the light switch to illuminate the deep tunnels of my sin. My daughter didn’t ask me to help pick up her toys. She didn’t ask me to cook her a meal. She asked me to cut the edges off of her sandwich for lunch… While I was making it.

There was such little sacrifice but such great hesitation.  Such a small task to serve her. Such a great sin against her and my Savior. 

2) Christ’s painful sacrifice for a petty sinner.

The sheer pathetic nature of this sin is enough to be worthy of spending eternity in hell. But also, the hesitation to serve my daughter in such a simple way is evidence of how horribly depraved I am, and how absolutely hell bound I would be apart from Jesus Christ. Yet, because God has been merciful to me, and saved me in Christ, I was reminded and thankful for Colossians 2:13-14:

“And you, who were dead in the trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”

No sin is excusable before God. No sin is too petty for eternal punishment. But for those that trust Christ by faith, as the one who bled and died for sinners, God extends mercy, now and forevermore.    

3) Christ’s promise to make me perfect as He is.

As I stood in the kitchen, reminded of Christ, I was confident that I would be able to move from this moment with a new attitude towards serving my family. But this confidence doesn’t come from a pep talk and my own effort. My confidence is in Christ’s perfect obedience to His Father, and His promise to complete His work in me. Paul says in Philippians 1:6:

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”   

As I strive to lay my life down for my family through various types of sacrifice, I know without a question that Christ will enable me to do so. And in moments when I still struggle to serve my family, friends, and neighbors, I am comforted by this reminder from sixteenth century Puritan, Richard Sibbes, “Christ looks more at the good in [me] which he means to cherish than the ill in [me] which he means to abolish.”

Christ promises that He is making me like Him, and so, like Him, I will be.

Hopefully, by God’s grace, in the future I won’t need to be challenged on my sin while making lunch for my daughter, but I’ll be an abundantly blessed man if every time I cut crusts off of her sandwich I’m reminded of Christ’s goodness towards me. 

What My Daughters Have Taught Me About Teaching Them

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” – Ephesians 6:4

Dad’s, we are commanded to teach our children about God.

Think about that for a moment.

Our puny minds, full of football stats, grilling menus, and hunting gear are also translators of the eternal Word of God to our 6 year olds’ ears.

This seems like a daunting task, and indeed it’s one that requires careful words and thoughtful explanations, but it’s also one that is drenched in God’s grace towards us. God honors our obedience to teach our children His Word, sometimes in-spite of our stumbling efforts, but that’s what we need to do: Put forth effort.

I have two daughters, a six year old and a nine year old. Here are three things they’ve taught me about teaching them:

1) Teaching my daughters won’t always go as expected.

My daughters always like to brag about how they’ve learned “the whole Bible” (aka Jonah and the “whale”, Noah’s ark, and some stuff about Jesus) in Sunday school. So my wife, Cortni and I decided that we would study a new question from The Westminster Shorter Catechism at dinner each night. The beauty of catechizing the kids is that catechisms teach more than Bible stories. They teach children about doctrine, with questions like “What is sin?” “How did Christ, being the Son of God, become man?” and “What is repentance unto life?”

A couple of weeks ago, I opened up the Westminster Shorter for the first time at dinner, and threw the curveball at my oldest daughter. “Layla, what is the chief end of man? What is the purpose that God created us for?” She refused to swing at the pitch and rather threw a knuckle ball back at me. “Why did God create Satan when He knew that Satan would do so many bad things?”

Soon enough there was an onslaught of “why” questions, raised voices, a cloud of dust, and tears of reconciliation. The night didn’t go as expected, but hey, we got to hear our daughter’s struggles to understand a question that many adults would rather ignore. In the end, God’s grace was abundant to bless the conversation with both of our girls that night.

Naturally, from this point, I’ve learned another point:

2) Teaching my daughters is harder than I thought it would be.

“Heck, I’ve taught adults the Bible before,” was my (ignorant) thought. Sure, children might be less stubborn to teach than adults, but they aren’t easier to teach.  

Trying to communicate the things of God to the mind of a child in a clear and truthful way is not an easy task. This week I’ve spent about as much time studying how to teach my kids about the Trinity as I have formerly preparing sermons to preach. Even if I chop the doctrine of the Trinity into a bite-sized chunk for the girls to chew on, they’ll be chewing on it for all eternity, just like the rest of us.

As “this side of heaven” folks, we’re trying to grasp onto truths that we can’t fully grasp ourselves and set them before our children in ways that will help them to see how beautiful these truths are. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all way to do this. After much trial and error, in order to help my girls understand beautiful doctrines, I’ve drawn some not so beautiful illustrations. To help them understand the seamless story of the redemption of man in Christ, I’ve written some cringe-worthy stories (not intentional of course) featuring werewolves and woodland creatures.  

Teaching children requires interaction, illustration, and most importantly it requires the illumination from the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our Comforter when trying to teach our kids about doctrine. Just as He is the one that illuminates my mind to see Christ’s beauty in the Scriptures, I am confident that He is doing the same for my girls. When His Word is opened and taught, His will is accomplished. 

That leads to the next lesson I’ve learned from teaching my girls God’s Word:

3) Teaching my daughters doesn’t require me to have all the answers.

I can’t tell you how freeing it was for me to say to my nine year old, “I’m not sure honey, but I’ll do some reading and look for the answer.”

I love studying God’s Word. Every morning I wake up and open my Bible, I am blessed with the undeserved promise that He is there to meet with me, a wretched sinner, and speak to me through His Spirit – to show me Christ on every page and to convict me of my sin. I also thoroughly enjoy reading books that emphasize the doctrines found in Scripture. Some of my favorite moments of the day consist of dissecting a Reformed Confession, taking notes on Puritan thought, or underlining my way through a book from my wife about applying gospel truths to my life.

Even with all of this study, I still get the privilege of confessing to my daughters that I am merely a man that will always be learning about my God that I love. When I say, “I don’t know how to answer that right now, but I’ll check my Bible” I’m telling her that I care more about her having the correct view of God rather than the false notion that her dad is a super genius that can flippantly spout off theological answers to tough questions. And as long as she’s asking me, “Daddy, what does this mean?” my heart will burst into praise because God, in His grace, has allowed me to teach His daughter about Him, even though I don’t always do so perfectly.

Dads, we are responsible for what our children know about God more so than the youth pastor, the children’s pastor, and the pre-K volunteer. We must humbly rise to this task with confidence in our heavenly Father who teaches us to teach, as we fall under the fountain of grace that flows from Christ.  

 

A Thank You Letter to the Layperson

Phoebe, Prisca, Aquila, Epaenetus, Andronicus, Junia, Ampliatus, Urbanus, Stachys, Apelles, Aristobulus, Herodion, Narcissus, Tryphanea, Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus, Rufus’ mom, Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, Philologus, Julia, Nereus, Olympas. (Romans 16:1-16)

These people fascinate me.

At the end of Paul’s letters he greets his brothers and sisters in Christ, brothers and sisters that many of us don’t think twice about. But lately they’ve been on my mind.

Recently I’ve thought that if I could spend one day with either the apostle Paul, or one of these almost unknowns, I would choose a name from Paul’s greetings that is mentioned and then lost in the flipping to the next Pauline letter. I would put on a pot of coffee, pull out two chairs, and chat with Prisca, Andronicus, or Persis, or Patrobas, or Julia.

See, I’ve read Paul’s heart. I’ve studied Paul’s heart. I at least have an inkling of an idea of what Paul’s heart for the Lord is, what his relationship with Jesus is like, and what calling God had given him from before the foundations of the world. But I haven’t heard any of Prisca or Aquila’s heart as they risked their lives for the spreading of the gospel. I haven’t heard how Epaenetus was saved, and how his salvation affected his friends and family in Asia. I haven’t gotten to read Junia, who was following Christ before Paul was even converted. I know only one thing about these people: They loved Jesus.

And they didn’t just “love” Jesus on Sunday mornings. Every day, in professing love for Christ, they risked their lives for His Name’s sake. They held onto the letters of Paul and the testimonies of Christ like their life depended on them, because their lives did depend on these things. Their lives were consumed with cries of, “Take the world, but give me Jesus!”

Tragically this love for Christ has become lost in the Church today. These days many families go to church on Sunday morning to see someone passionately teach the Word of God, yet they think this passion is reserved for the pastor.

But in the midst of a sea of Sunday morning faces, there are a few that unknowingly challenge me in my devotion to Christ. There are a few that saturate their lives in God’s Word on a daily basis. There are a few that have a heart that burns for those that have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are a few that serve and serve and serve without expecting a single thing in return. There are a few that I can sit down and intelligently discuss Theology with. There are a few that are more passionate about Sola Scriptura than half of the pastors in this country.

To these people I want to say, Thank you.

Thank you for challenging me to grow in my understanding of God’s Word. Thank you for rebuking me when I don’t have a passion for the salvation of my co-workers and family like I should. Thank you for helping me to consider the genuineness of my love for Jesus. Thank you for reminding me to serve Christ for the sake of His glory alone. Thank you for being a model of what it looks like to passionately pursue Jesus, simply because you love Jesus. Thank you for doing these things, even if you don’t realize you’ve done them.

I love that God inspired Paul’s pen to write out the names of the non-pastors in his letters. I love it because those names, names of Christians that just wanted to serve Jesus in any way that they were able, are in Scripture. It’s God’s confirmation that He sees all hearts. He cares about every act of service done in the name of Jesus. He is pleased with His children beyond measure. And what is most beautiful of all is that just like the names written in Paul’s letters, our names are written in the Book that God has written of us – the Lamb’s Book of Life (Revelation 13:8). I’m blessed to serve Jesus with you from now until He takes us home. To Him alone be the glory.

“For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” (Romans 16:19-20)

Understanding the T(ulip) in the Garden

Genesis 2:9 “And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

Genesis 2:16 “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’”

Romans 5:18-19 “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”

The Garden of Eden is a world that fallen man, thousands of years removed, cannot comprehend. The closest paintings in our minds are sure to be a gross distortion of what really was. But it’s not our fault. We can blame our first parents for that. Because of Adam’s disobedience, every part of our being has been tainted in some way with sin. This has left our human abilities with two options. We are able to sin, and unable not to sin, or to put it another way, when given the choice between God and sin, left to our natural desires we will only ever choose sin.

Adam and Eve, however, had options that neither you, nor I, have. They were able to sin just as you and I are. But the distinct difference they received, was the ability to not sin. Perfection was possible.

There was one command that God gave to the first humans: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” God gave Adam and Eve the option to eat from every tree in the garden to satisfy their taste buds except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

But we’re missing something here.

Many times when we read through this portion of Scripture, we are so quick to be dumbfounded at all of the trees that Adam and Eve could have chose from that we miss one that Scripture mentions specifically.

The tree of life. 

Genesis 2:16 contrasts two trees. Not one tree and a hundred others. Two. “And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

We know what happens next to Adam and Eve. They counted equality with God a thing to be grasped. They worshipped the fruit on the forbidden tree. They listened to the seductive serpent rather than the glorious God. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.” (Genesis 3:6-7)

Adam and Eve chose death.

Formerly perfect. Suddenly, tainted.

They refused the tree of life, the tree that would have offered sweet communion with the all-loving God of the universe who graciously brought one from the dust and another from a rib, a holy God who got His hands dirty as He formed the first of earth’s population. Instead they chose the tree that God had promised would breed death. Our first parents chose death.

As of late, I’ve had many conversations with brothers and sisters in Christ about the T in the reformer’s tulip, total depravity. Each conversation is built on agreement in the doctrine of man’s depravity. That is, until we unpack what the extent of that depravity actually involves, namely that man cannot choose Christ unless first regenerated by the Holy Spirit.

I’m not going to explain the differences in these conversations but I will go ahead and explain briefly why the Genesis account of Adam (Adam, being the representative of man, Romans 5:12) and Eve can provide great insight for us into the true nature of our depravity.

Adam, the perfect man (before the fall), with the true opportunity to live a sinless life and to enjoy God for eternity, chose instead, disobedience and death. Adam had a pure human nature. He didn’t enter into the world tainted by another’s sin like you and I have. He wasn’t born into brokenness like you and I were. But he still chose to hate God and to love sin.

And yet, non-reformed folks think that we, natural sinners, still have the ability in our human flesh to choose God?

You only need to get a page and a half into your Bible to see this simply cannot be the case.

We have in Genesis 2-3 a clear picture that even our “best” selves would still reject God and choose the world. This Scripture portrays man’s representative, even as his purest self, choosing sin. The fall of man doesn’t just tell us how sin entered the world. It tells us we will never choose God on our own. We will choose death one hundred percent of the time, from beginning to end, especially as fallen creatures from the womb. That is, unless God intervenes through regeneration.

How does regeneration change us? Simply put, in regeneration, God plants a desire for Himself in the human heart that otherwise would not be there. God gives His elect the ability to choose Him and therefore they choose Him. We still have the ability to sin, but we also have the ability not to sin. Death, once imputed in Adam has become life, imputed in Christ for all who believe.  

 

Regeneration by the Spirit

“Not all the outward forms on earth,

Nor rites that God has given,

Nor will of man, nor blood, nor birth,

Can raise a soul to heaven.

The sovereign will of God alone

Creates us heirs of grace,

Born in the image of his Son,

A new, peculiar race.

The Spirit, like some heavenly wind,

Breathes on the sons of flesh,

Creates anew the carnal mind,

And forms the man afresh.

Our quickened souls awake and rise

From their long sleep of death;

On heavenly things we fix our eyes,

And praise employs our breath.”

-Isaac Watts

 

Resources:

R.C. Sproul. “Chosen by God”

A.W. Pink. “The Sovereignty of God”

 

How to be a “cool” youth leader without listening to Taylor Swift

A few months ago I attended a conference that held a youth group workshop. Hundreds of eager youth pastors and small group leaders attended the event with the anticipation of taking the “success” stories of a ministry network and applying these principles to their youth groups. Myself included.

I listened intently as one of the speakers went through a list of ten staples to implement amongst your small group leaders. I jotted down his suggestions and considered how I could bring some of these ideas into play. As we headed toward the end of the list, the speaker mentioned something along the lines of “have one of your small group leaders keep up with what the kids are into.” Or in other words, “stay relevant so the youth will think you’re cool.” He then insisted that the youth pastor should delegate small group leaders to research what the kids are into and “when the next T-Swift album is going to drop.”

This next part is embarrassing…

I started to write the point down, and may have nodded my head a little bit with enlightenment.

Then one of our high school small group leaders, who was sitting next to me, laughed to herself and said, “If you did something like that we wouldn’t think you were cool.”

“Oh, thank you, Lord!” I thought to myself.

I understand that the intention behind the speaker’s suggestion was for good. He wants the kids to feel as though they can talk about pop culture, gaming, etc. with their leaders. I agree that the youth should feel comfortable enough with their small group leaders and youth pastor to be able to share what they enjoy with them. But here’s where I differ:

This doesn’t start with the small group leader. This starts with the youth.

“Cool” to the youth isn’t when the leader is trying to be trendy by keeping up with pop culture. “Cool” to the youth is when the youth leader takes time to listen to their interests despite having no idea what they’re talking about. I spent HOURS listening to one of the students tell me about how much he loves playing Kingdom Hearts, even though I had no idea what the game was about. But that’s why I let HIM explain it to me. I listened, so he could teach me. As a result, he let me teach him, and now we meet regularly to study our Bibles together and he leads one of our youth Bible study groups.

Also, I’d consider this: Burying your face in internet articles about Hollywood rather than burying your face in your Bible won’t produce any fruit in your life. Therefore, it will not produce any fruit in the lives of the youth in which you’re ministering to. Our calling as youth leaders is a heavy one! When they graduate from our youth group they’ll remember our devotion to Christ, our love for the gospel, and our genuine love for them as we preach the full gospel, offense and all.

One passage of Scripture I love to remind our team of is 2 Corinthians 4:1-6.

“Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s Word, but by open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the lights of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

God is the one who has graciously called us to lead youth. He’s given us the first stab at speaking truth into their lives. He’s called us to shape the way they view the importance of Christ crucified, for themselves and those around them. We are servants for Jesus’ sake, to win souls to Himself, souls of youth who are being bombarded with lies and temptations at every turn. How gracious God is to allow sinners to speak the Truth of salvation in His perfect Son! 

Let me say this to close out this post. We all want to be liked. I’m no exception. I want the youth in my group to like me. It’s convicting to think that even pastors can get so caught up in trying to be liked that we lose sight of the gospel for ourselves, a gospel that grants us identity and mission. But in His mercy God hasn’t swiped the ministry from us when we’ve failed to exalt Him above all else. He’s left us room to repent and shepherd our students unto the great Shepherd’s flock. Let’s be faithful youth leaders, and by God’s grace see our students forget about what’s “cool”, and treasure Christ. 


Separation Anxiety: Man's Deepest Dread Satisfied Through Faith in Jesus

Separation anxiety: Anxiety provoked in a young child by separation, or the threat of separation from their mother. 

I don’t remember much from my early childhood as a young boy, but I vividly remember the day that I thought I’d never see my mother again.  

My twin brother and I decided to stay in our mom’s mini van at the Dominick’s parking lot while she went in to get groceries. Surely it would be a short trip. She’d run in and out and we’d be on the road headed back home in no time. Early minutes ticked by quickly as we waited for her to return. However, after a long and anxious ten minutes my brother and I began to get nervous. Then to add to the drama, God decided it would thunderstorm that afternoon. And so it did. Hearing the thunder crash and seeing the lightening streak across the sky, while rain struck violently on our mangled maroon-colored minivan, we created only the worst thoughts of our mother never coming back to us again. So we cried and mourned and panicked in wait for her. Our very insides were hysterical.

This is a picture of what our souls go through apart from God, our Creator.

We were created for relationship with God. However, because of sin and our distance between heaven and earth we don't have the type of relationship that we were meant to have with Him. This creates in us a type of spiritual separation anxiety.

Paul attests to this in his letter to the church at Rome. 

“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” (Romans 8:19-22)

A few weeks ago, I was preparing a sermon through Jesus’ words about anxiety recorded in Matthew 6:25-34. In verse 26 Jesus says, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”

When I read this I felt as though the Holy Spirit was pressing into my mind the words “your” and “them”. Jesus was comparing the relationship that God has with the birds to the relationship He has with His children. The birds are God’s creation. They aren’t His children. Therefore, we are of more value than they. Encouraging news. But as encouraging as that is, I decided to take after Luther’s plea to, “Pause at every verse of Scripture and shake, as it were, every bough of it, that if possible some fruit may drop down.”

And drop down it did.

The fruit was this: God’s relationship with His children isn’t just unique to His relationship with nature. His relationship with His children is unique compared to His relationship with unbelievers as well. There is no place in Scripture that you’ll find an unbeliever called a “child of God.” In fact if you aren’t a child of God, you are a child of wrath. (Ephesians 2:3).  

In Romans 8 Paul seems to be making a similar comparison as Jesus did.

He is setting apart two groups:

Creation (as mentioned in verses 19 and 20).

The creation is a group inclusive of all living things. This includes unbelievers, those that have not trusted that Jesus, the Son of God, stepped into human history 2,000 years ago to give His life for their sins and rose from the dead three days later to give them everlasting life.

Children (as mentioned in verse 21).

The children of God are a group inclusive of only those that have put their faith in the finished work of Jesus for their salvation. He came to this earth to lay His life down on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins and to apply redemption to our souls through His resurrection. If God were to ask us the question, “Why should I let you into heaven?” we would have no answer but to point to the Lamb slain that stands before us, crying, “Nothing in my hand I bring; Simply to Thy cross I cling!” 

As we see here there are two types of souls in the same condition. They are both anxious to be reunited with God and live inside of God’s redemptive plan for the whole of creation. Yet, they have drastically different cries. One group of souls, namely the creation, is riddled with fear (even if unaware to the unbeliever) at the return of the Harvester. Meanwhile, the other (much smaller) group of souls, the children of God, is longing with excitement for community with the Harvester, community that was corrupted through the fall of the first man, Adam.

If you’re reading this and you aren’t a believer in Christ, let me say this: Your soul is in a state of anxious terror. You are in danger of spending eternity apart from the One you were created to have a relationship with in a very real hell that wasn’t created for you, but is the destination of all sinners that choose not to lean on Jesus as their Savior.  

The good news is that the gospel of Jesus Christ is extended to all people.

God made a way for the deepest anxiety of our souls to be satisfied through Christ’s blood.

In this necessary sacrifice, Jesus experienced the ultimate separation anxiety on the cross so that we wouldn’t have to. While His hands and feet were nailed into the splintering wood that held Him above the earth, Jesus cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” translated, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). Being a holy and perfect God, the Father had to painfully separate Himself from the sin that His Son bore on the cross. God looked away from Jesus in disgust because Jesus was covered in the filth and toxicity of our sin. Meanwhile He poured out His wrath because of our disobedience (Deuteronomy 28:15-68) onto His perfect Son, creating not only separation but also the crushing weight that lead to His death. At His final breath, Christ bridged the gap between eternity and humanity that we can freely cross through faith in Him.

This cross changes everything for us! My hope and my prayer for those reading that can’t identify as a child of God is that you would put your faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection for you. Receive the free gift of salvation and relationship with your Creator that is held out to you in this moment.

No more separation.

No more anxiety for your soul.

In Christ we have the joy of the salvation He has earned for us.

What greater relief is there than knowing that our souls will inhabit eternity? 

How The Cross Deals With Our Father Wounds

Father wounds.

Abuse. Rejection. Displeasure. Abandonment.

From dad.

It seems that recently the topic of father wounds has garnered much attention amongst men in the Church. Men are finally seeking counsel to reconcile a painful disconnect with their fathers; forming “fight clubs”, sitting down for one on one meetings, and teaming up in men’s ministries to combat the broken influence of their earthly father. These days it’s almost sexy to acknowledge father wounds from the pulpit on Sunday mornings. The subject is finally being recognized by a thread of “me too’s” in church communities.  

I’m thankful for this. By the grace of God the cold daddy will no longer be confused as to why he’s been burning bridges with his children.

However, I’m afraid that as men open up their closet doors, unveiling skeletons to trusted pastors and comrades, they ‘re finding comfort in a pat on the back for vulnerability, but continue to neglect repairing broken strands in their own household.  

Acknowledging father wounds as a factor in a broken father-child relationship is worthless unless it leads to repentance. Without repentance, it’s just an excuse.

There is only one way men can repent of living as a result of their father wounds: By clinging to the bloody cross of Christ; The scene of the ultimate Father wound.

A couple of months ago I had joined a men’s group at the church I serve at. Through God’s ordinance, I could feel the Holy Spirit pressing onto my heart the topic of “father wounds”. At that time I was reading in both the Old Testament book of Numbers and the New Testament book of John. I had also just finished reading a challenging book by D.A. Carson titled, “The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God”.  

In John chapter 8, God the Son describes in depth the nature of His relationship with God the Father.

·      “I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.” They said to him therefore, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” (John 8:18-19)

·      “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.” (John 8:28)

·      “And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” (John 8:29)

 

In Carson’s book, “The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God”, Dr. Carson describes the unique Father-Son relationship of God the Father and God the Son; that they have always existed in a perfect loving relationship in communion with one another. In an exposition of John, chapter 5, he writes, “Jesus is so uniquely and unqualifiedly the Son of God that the Father shows him all he does, out of sheer love for him, and the Son, however dependent on his Father, does everything the Father does.”

He goes on to mention John 8:29 and says, “Because the Son always does the things that please him, the Father has not left him alone (8:29). Indeed, the perfection of the Son’s obedience (he always does what the Father has commanded him, 14:31) is grounded in his love for the Father (14:31).”

As I read through John chapter 8, the focus of my quiet time was Jesus doing everything to please the Father. It’s not difficult for him to do so, and he does it out of love for God, who is completely pleased in his Son and in his Son’s obedience. This is a perfect harmonious Father-Son relationship that I’m sure cuts to the heart of any man that has sought to please his dad (which is probably all of us).

A few days after reading this in John, my daily reading brought me to the book of Numbers, chapter 14. In this chapter, God is speaking judgment over the nation of Israel because they have been grumbling against the Lord, though the Lord has been a faithful Deliverer. God says this in verse 34:

·     “According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, a year for each day, you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure.” (Numbers 14:34)

The word that the Holy Spirit pressed into my heart was displeasure. God isn’t pleased with Israel. He shouldn’t be pleased with Israel. But, as men, we can’t disassociate ourselves with the sins of Israel, because we’ve all struggled to trust the Lord in the same way they had. We’ve all committed sin that displeases God.

Yet, through faith in Jesus, we don’t experience God’s displeasure.

Jesus does.

The blameless Son of God that does EVERYTHING to please the Father, and PERFECTLY accomplishes that task is the One that experienced the Father’s displeasure on the cross. As Jesus was lifted up before sinners, the Father looked away from his Son, abandoned him, leaving the Son confused and crying out for his Dad as his Father poured out wrath upon him, due to his displeasure with OUR sin.

Jesus experienced the ultimate Father wound on the cross.

He was perfect yet He was punished. Everything He did, He did to please the Father. Even going to the cross for us was an act of obedience (with the joy set before Him being our salvation, Hebrews 12:2). Yet that obedience involved displeasure due to our disobedience. 

How painful for the Son to be punished without deserving punishment. How painful for the Father to punish the one he is perfectly pleased with because his Son chose to step in to take on the punishment due to a wretch.

As husbands and fathers, we need to CLING to the cross of Jesus. Oftentimes we overlook that Jesus can sympathize with us in the pain of our father wounds. He’s experienced the deepest Father wound, which had the wrath of God poured into it, for our sake. Through Jesus alone, we’ve received the pleasure of the Father when we deserve displeasure. We should marvel at our wonderful God and Savior.

My hope is that leaning on Christ’s sacrifice will bring about healing in our lives, and repentance in our hearts as we struggle not to carry our father wounds with us into our marriage or parenting.

However, chances are that all of us already have. The good news is that the work of Christ on the cross is finished. Our debt has been paid. We are redeemed through His blood, and we can move forward without guilt or shame as the Holy Spirit uncovers areas of sinfulness in our lives due to past hurt. But I pray for all of the men reading this that we repent of using father wounds as an excuse for discord in our families. Repent and allow the healing of the Holy Spirit to come into your heart and know in the ups and downs of your journey, your heavenly Father is pleased with you.   

Nothing in my hand I bring; Simply to Thy cross I cling.

James

My Exposition of Psalm 86

This week at youth group I'll be preaching about prayer. I chose Psalm 86 as the main text but will preach it with a focus on teaching the youth how to pray rather than going verse by verse through the text, so I thought it'd be fun to post this.  

PSALM 86

(v.1) “Incline Your ear O LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.” 

David’s prayer begins with an attitude of humility. He asks that Yahweh bend His ear to His lowly servant. Say I was to ask as David does here. If God were to choose not to acknowledge my request, I would have no room for objection. For who is the one that holds authority, the asker or the one being asked? He can answer in whichever way He pleases, for whatever He justly presumes.

David asks God to incline His ear towards him because he (David) is poor and needy. Now, was David poor because he was a beggar? No, he was poor and needy because he was created that way. I am poor and needy. I am poor and needy simply because I am created that way. I am created to depend upon God. My flesh wants me to believe I’m more than what I am, but the fact remains that I desperately need God’s provision or I will perish before the day ends.  

(v.2) “Preserve my life, for I am godly; save Your servant, who trusts in You – You are my God.”

If something is being preserved, it means it’s being tended to. There is a daily process involved of keeping the preserved object alive. Jesus holds all things together by His Word (Colossians 1:17). My life is being preserved every second by active grace on my behalf through the cross of Jesus. As a child of God (the only way I can be “godly” in any sense), I can have confidence in my lifespan because my life is not my own. My former self, the one that tried to grip onto my time on earth with a furious desperation, was crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20). I no longer cling to my existence in what is before me, but in what lay ahead.

However, David here isn’t resting in the promise of the cross like we can do because of the gospel, but his rest is in the latter part of the verse. “You are my God.” What a wonderful announcement! David’s request is wrapped up in such assurance! Those who can confidently say, “You are my God,” can boldly enter the throne room of heaven with their requests. The only way one can say, “You are my God,” is through Jesus (Matthew 11:27), who stands in the gap between our sin and God’s holiness as our Mediator before the Justifier (Hebrews 9:24).

(v.3) “Be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all the day.”

 All the day? David admittedly cries to the Lord all day long. Though to us it may seem an embarrassment, David shows a greater understanding of the character of God than we do in our sheepishness for David. God is never fed up with our frustrations. He isn’t disappointed in our tears. Are you a mess all day long? Be a mess before God in your prayers. Our tears reach His heart in such a way that He keeps track of each one that glides down our cheek (Psalm 56:8).

It’s important to note that when “being a mess” before the Lord becomes our disposition, we must do so in reverence of Him, with the same humility we were reminded of in verse 1. Amidst a spirit of frustration we ought to approach God while, at the very least, muttering (hopefully proclaiming) Romans 8:28.

(v.4) “Gladden the soul of your servant, for to You, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.”

David asks that God would gladden his soul. It can be easy for us to continue past the former part of this verse into the latter but we need to take notice of David’s request. “Gladden my soul,” he says. Because he is asking for gladness, we can see that David is not glad. With whatever occurrence in his life, David is dissatisfied and distressed through to his innermost parts.

David speaks this phrase with confidence. He is confident in the resolve of his cries because of Who he finds his gladness in. “For (because), O Lord, I lift up my soul to you, the steadfast source of my gladness, will I be made glad.” The Lord calls us to rejoice and be glad in Him (Psalm 32:11), therefore a prayer for gladness of our souls through the ministry of Jesus to our hearts will always be answered.

(v.5) “For You, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon You.”

Why can David’s soul be gladdened? It is because of God’s nature; Who He is. In darkness, David reflects on the character of Almighty God, something all of us should take to heart. “God, my soul is distressed, but thank you for the most beautiful act of love that has saved me and keeps me in Your arms, the cross of Jesus.”

Oh the importance of the word “steadfast” in this verse! We have a love that is unchanging in Jesus and because of this reckless love we have received forgiveness that extends further than our sin. If we’re all honest, all of us have thought that we lost God’s forgiveness long ago. Unknowingly, we try to earn which can only be received as a gift through faith in Jesus: our forgiveness. We think a few days, hours, minutes of self-condemnation will then allow room for Christ’s forgiveness, but this isn’t so. Our method of repentance should immediately follow our sin. Sin, run to Jesus. By the power of the Holy Spirit, soon there will be no desire to continue in this pattern. If we immediately kneel before the cross, leaving no room for the Enemy’s condemnation, we experience the true sweetness of grace because there is no room for us to believe any work of ours can earn forgiveness. This leads us to true repentance.

(v.6) “Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer; listen to my plea for grace.”

The fact that God would even give ear to our prayers is in itself an act of grace. God will hear our prayers that line up with His character. Whether we recognize this or not is determined by our earnestness in aligning our thoughts to Christ.

(v.7) “In the day of my trouble I call upon You, for You answer me.”

Listen to the confidence in David’s voice. “I call upon You, because You answer me.” These aren’t the shaky words of the double-minded man in chapter one of James’ letter to the Dispersion (James 1:5-8). How can David have this confidence in a response from the Lord? The answer is simple. He’s stepped out in faith before. As a shepherd boy David sought God’s help to deliver him from the mauling of lions and bears (1 Samuel 17:37). David sought God’s backhand to Goliath’s skull, while he distracted the giant with a pebble and a slingshot (1 Samuel 17:49). If we never actively display our faith that our God is bigger than our circumstances, we won’t be able to pray with the same confidence we see in David’s proclamation of deliverance.

(v.8) “There is none like You among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like Yours.”

There is no one like our God. False gods are humorous to God (Isaiah 44:9-20). He is jealous for His children, and He dismantles idolatry with such sarcasm and whit that one almost feels bad for the fools doing the carving. Sorcery, mythology, idolatry, and pride of man: All fall short of the works of the Lord.

(v.9) “All the nations You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, and shall glorify Your name.”

We tend to forget that God created the third world nations that have chosen paganism just as much as He did the more deceitfully pagan nations like America. However, this scripture tells us that all the nations will come and worship before Him. Notice however, no where in this verse does David say that God will grab these nations by the collar and sit them before His throne and force them into reluctant worship. No, these nations will come on their own before the throne of God, worshipping and glorifying His name! Pagan peoples will run to the living God upon the revelation of Jesus Christ!

(v.10) “For You are great and do wondrous things; You alone are God.

This “for” is in reference to the verse above. All nations will run to God because of His wonders, the greatest of all being the wonderful cross of Jesus. Our God alone stepped off His heavenly throne to redeem a people that didn’t even know they needed a Way to salvation. He could have given us all 70 years on this earth and allowed for our death to be the end of our consciousness. Instead, our God decided to give us eternity with Him through the gospel of Jesus. Wonderful indeed.

(v.11) “Teach me Your way, O Lord, that I may walk in Your truth; unite my heart to fear Your name.”

If fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Proverbs 1:7), then what greater request can David make than to align his knowledge of God with God’s knowledge of Himself? It isn’t until we’re reverently terrified of God that we will begin to walk in truth. Without fear of God, we won’t step foot on the path that He’s ordained for us. On this path awaits redemption, sanctification, anointing, and inheritance. The price to journey has been paid in Blood. A God willing to spill His blood to free those caught in the snare of death is one that should strike fear in its most dreadful form as well as it’s most awestruck gasp.

(v.12) “I give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify Your name forever.”

How often do we pour our hearts out to God in request, only to resolve with a short utterance of thanks when we see God grant our requests? What a gracious God to love and provide for such a spoiled creation. Notice the end of this verse. “I will glorify Your name forever.” When our thanks are conditional upon our gifts, they will run dry. When our thanks are upon the character of an infinite God, we will be able to join with David in lifting high our Creator forever.

(v.13) “For great is Your steadfast love toward me; You have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.”  

This verse begins by transitioning from verse 12. David gives thanks to the Lord because His steadfast love is great towards David. God delivered David from Sheol, not on account of David, but on account of Himself. His steadfast love toward David is as the effectual call of grace. God has chosen to love David with love incorruptible. David has responded to that love by pursuing his Beloved. It is this same undeserved gift of love that has delivered believers from Sheol through the finished work of Jesus on the cross (Romans 8:38-39). The gospel is the eternal picture of God’s steadfast love.

(v.14) “O God, insolent men have risen up against me; a band of ruthless men seeks my life, and they do not set you before them.”

In this part of the prayer, David isn’t just mentioning to God what God already knows; that men are looking to kill David. David is stating his assurance as a child of the living God. He’s reminding himself of his place on the palm of God’s hand and inside the Book of Life. David’s enemies don’t set God before them, but David does. As ministers of the gospel we’ll gladly become degenerates according to the world (1 Corinthians 4:13), hated by all (Matthew 10:22), with full confidence in God’s favor through the blood of Jesus (Matthew 10:28-31).  

(v.15) “But You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”

Notice again what David doesn’t say here. He doesn’t say, “But You, O Lord, will squash my enemies like a bug.” While David is sought out by men looking to kill him, he doesn’t find rest in what God may or may not do to his enemies. David finds rest in who God is. In his prayer, David remembers why he can have peace inside of turmoil. This peace comes from knowing the One who goes before him into battle, not the act of the battle itself.

(v.16) “Turn to me and be gracious to me; give Your strength to Your servant, and save the son of your maidservant.”

What strength is David asking for in this verse? He isn’t asking for his own strength to be fully developed for his enemies. David asks for God’s strength. Is David asking for God’s power to crush his enemies physically? No, David is asking for strength through the Holy Spirit to walk through affliction and be saved as he walks through it. David finds strength in God to remain alive in harm’s way. God rescues David when the affliction has had its full effect (1 Peter 1:6-7). Because of Christ, God gives us strength to endure our trials, but make no mistake it is God who rescues us from the trials. He decides the beginning of the purification process as well as the end.

(v.17) “Show me a sign of Your favor, that those who hate me may see and be put to shame because You, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.”

As redeemed children of God, we have a sign of favor that David didn’t have. We have the cross of Jesus. The cross of Christ is the everlasting reminder of the unconditional favor we have in our Savior, Jesus. God doesn’t look at us with contempt, but with joyful mercy in the glory of His Son (Jude 24). One day, every knee will bow down before Him (Isaiah 45:23), either with joyful tears that only a man that has labored over ministry to Jesus can shed, or with a scornful tear of pride that will fall with a man into death. I beg of you, don’t be the second man. 

 

 

Ezekiel 3: The Watchman Part 2

In the last post we left our rookie prophet, Ezekiel, sitting in overwhelming awe and bitterness amongst the people that God had called him to prophesy to: The Israelite exiles at Tel-abib.

God had successfully called Ezekiel out of his comfortable priesthood into the stresses of prophetic ministry. He knew what this would mean for himself. Persecution. Being hated. And ultimately, preaching to people who wouldn’t listen to him (Ezekiel 3:7).

Talk about a dead end job.

However, God hasn’t placed the burden of salvation on the shoulders of his humble and faithful servant, Ezekiel.

Neither is that burden placed on us.

If you decide that God has called you to save the nations (including the nation of your atheist neighbor’s house) in addition to taking the gospel to them, then you’re attempting to place the weight on your shoulders that Jesus bore on the cross.

Christ died to save all who believe and He doesn’t need your help either.

We are commanded to obedience in spreading the gospel. Salvation is God’s doing and that didn’t change after the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20).

Like we spoke about in the last Ezekiel post, we are all called to be missionaries. This could mean overseas missions trips, or even re-locating to a third world country for the rest of your life. Being a missionary could also mean having intentional gospel conversations with your neighbors and co-workers.

It’s by God’s grace that He has chosen sinners to take part in spreading the gospel as missionaries. But there’s another term that God uses in His calling to Ezekiel.

Shamar.

Translation: Watchman.

I don’t know if this word has the same type of effect on you ladies, but I feel like, as a dude, you can’t be called a watchman without your chest instantly puffing up, running out to buy 5 cartons of eggs to eat like Gaston every morning, and getting “watchman” tattooed in Hebrew on your arm (could be speaking from experience here).

Being labeled a watchman by the Creator of the universe is quite a calling.

Let’s see what this calling entails:

“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from My mouth, you shall give them warning from me… If I say to the wicked , ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning… that person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness… he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul. Again, if a righteous person turns from his righteousness and commits injustice, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die. Because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin… but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the righteous person not to sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live, because he took the warning, and you will have delivered your soul.” (Ezekiel 3:17,18,19,20,21)  

This is a strict call to obedience: Blood on our hands in keeping the Word of God to ourselves, deliverance of our souls in spreading the gospel.

Is this “deliverance of our souls” some sort of threat to our salvation as believers in Christ as our Savior? Absolutely not. However, one day we will stand before God and give an account of our lives here on this earth. The great comfort in that for believers is that we will do this dressed in the righteousness of Christ.

Notice this “deliverance of our souls” is based upon obedience, not the hearer’s acceptance of the message.

We are the watchmen, but make no mistake about it: Christ is the Redeemer.

So, how are we doing as watchmen?

What are we telling people about Jesus?

When we find ourselves in conversations about our beliefs, do we hit the B button to avoid touching on the reality of our sin like jumping past lava in Super Mario? Do we say we know of a man named Jesus that once walked the earth, or do we emphatically speak about being known by God like Paul inquires about in Galatians? Would we rather chalk the cross to a 1 in the loss column instead of throwing away a loss column altogether because of the reigning victory of Christ in His resurrection, or are we trying to stalemate in our conversation to keep all parties comfortable?

Are we telling others of a little raise we prayed for and by the grace of God received with more passion than the miracle of once being dead and now being alive by the grace of God? Are we preaching health and wealth as the goal to our relationship with Christ, or because Christ is the end we strive for, that we can have peace in poor health and joy in financial lag. Are we making God our cosmic butler or our forever reigning King Who is showered with awestruck praises in the heavens of, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory”?

I promise I’m trying to make a point here.

My fear for myself, and other missionaries is that we dodge the full truth of the gospel, and in turn make it less beautiful and desirable to others.

We won’t ever fully realize the beauty of the gospel. Peter tells us in 1 Peter chapter 1 that even angels are still searching the unending depth of the gospel, and I’m sure angels have seen more than we have. So, if we keep to ourselves any part of the gospel message that Jesus died for sinners, and rose from the dead and through Him we have restored relationship with God, we degrade a beauty that we may have only, at this point, seen a sliver of.

Can anything thwart the work of the Holy Spirit and irresistible grace? No. Praise God, no. That’s never the question. The question we need to wrestle with is are we being watchmen?

Are we adorning the gospel? The WHOLE good news of Jesus Christ?

To keep these posts relatively short, I’ll end here with a challenge to speak truthfully the gospel of Jesus to others. There is no message more powerful or more life changing than God stepping into human history to save man.

We still have yet to finish chapter 3 of Ezekiel, but to preface next week, we’ll spend some time breaking down the action we’re called to in verses 18-21. 

Time Is Running Out

“God, I’m not getting any younger here.”

Yeah, He’s aware.

But how often do we raise this objection to the Creator of time when we’re frustrated with our stagnant single state and the anti-stagnant aging process?

It’s no mystery that most of us have a grimacing clock ticking in our minds as days, months, and years pass by without any prospective relationship on the horizon. I’m not hesitant to say that most of us 20 something’s thought we’d be married by now…

…If you don’t agree, go to an Acts29 church for one weekend. The amount of lonely, and dare I say, mopey (I’m guilty), singles will make you feel right at home.

So, why do singles get so depressed about singleness?

It’s because we feel like time is running out. If we had an infinite amount of time to find a spouse (or at least like 200 years), we wouldn’t feel so desperate.

Time is running out to have a relationship while you still feel young. Time is running out because one day you’d like to have your own children. Time is running out because you think being a newlywed at 40 can’t be nearly as exciting as being a newlywed at 20. Time is running out because all of your friends are getting married and you aren’t even dating.  

For me, my “get married” clock started ticking pretty early.

I was sitting in the back seat of my dad’s Chevy after my twelfth birthday party at Gameworks and my jam came on.

“Back at One” by Brian McKnight. 

I don’t know any twelve year olds that only wanted to hear K-Ci & Jojo and Mariah Carey on the radio, but it earned me a title as the “King of Slow Jamz” later in life.

Anyways, I remember during that song thinking to myself, “I can’t wait to get married.”

My point in telling you that story is that we’ve all set a clock at one point in our life to start the countdown to when we think we’ll get married. Maybe it was after your best friend got engaged, or after graduation, or after listening to Mint Condition for too long. Whatever the case, the truth is, some of us have had to reset that clock several times and now the clock looks less like, “Okay I’ll be married at this time,” to, “God Forbid, if I’m still single at this age I’ll sign up for my Christian Mingle account.”

All joking aside, it can be devastating to reset our “marriage clocks”. In doing so, we realize that another year has flown by without being in a loving relationship. Before we know it, five years have gone by of hope and disappointment, and you have to wonder to yourself, how on earth did I get here? How am I still alone? How am I still heartbroken? Why am I the one that has to do life single?

It hurts. And I’ll admit that some of my prayers turn into, “God please, just give me the last five years back.” Time feels like it’s slipping through the cracks between my fingers, like the sand of an hourglass that I'm desperately trying to retrieve, but the more time I try to retrieve it, the more time I lose trying to grasp what I’ve already lost.

Even though I sometimes struggle to believe this, like right now (Tip: don’t listen to The Civil Wars when writing or reading about love or the absence of it), I’m going to go ahead and say it anyways:

The singleness clock isn’t ticking against you.

It’s working in your favor.

How can we learn to say this with confidence?

By reflecting on the gospel.

On the cross we see God’s compassion for His children. He willingly gave His own Son to die for a people that would continue to rebel and reject Him. While we were still sinners, He made us His friends through the sacrifice of His beloved Son.

God already gave everything for us. Is there a single good thing that He would keep from those that love Him? Absolutely not (Psalm 84:11). And that was clearly displayed at the cross of Christ when God poured out the wrath that was due us onto His Son and imputed to us righteousness. The cross was an intentional display of God’s boundless love for us.

Paul says in Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?”

So why won’t He give me a relationship? Because it isn’t good right now. Even if we don’t understand why it isn’t. God, in His infinite, perfect wisdom says, wrapped in love, and compassion, “I care about you more than anything My son/daughter. It isn’t good for you. But I have something better.”

Can I give you an image here? Those moments when your heart feels the heaviest. Those moments when it feels shattered. I believe that God sees the physicality of those feelings when He looks at us in that state of being, and He sympathizes with us and doesn’t downplay the hardships that come along with being single.

You know, there’s another beautiful encouragement we can take from the gospel.

The power of God as seen in Christ’s resurrection.

Three days after Christ’s death in our place for our sin, God raised His Son from the dead, and He walked out of a now empty tomb with the keys to the gates of hell in His hand (Revelation 1:18), victorious over sin and death, and forevermore reigning in His glory.

The same God that has the power to raise Christ from the dead is at work in the lives of believers.

What does this mean for our singleness?

As cheesy as it sounds, it means God can bring your spouse into your life at any moment.

Do you believe that? Because that’s the reality. I mean it’s such a minuscule task for God, Who spoke the universe into motion, to bring us together with our spouses if that’s His will. To hold onto a single ounce of fear that He isn’t in control of our relationships feels silly when we look at our lives through a biblical lens.

So why has our all-powerful God providentially chosen not to make it happen yet?

It goes back to love. And that is where we rest.

If a loving and powerful God can pull us out of singleness, but chooses not to, we believe, even at times of struggling to accept, that this season of singleness will be of great glory to Him if we use our time properly, and is also preparing us to glorify Him all the more in the next faze of our relationship status.

Now, it’s easy to set our hope on a day when we’ll be with our spouse and reminisce about events that have yet to happen in some confusing, psychological paradox. The goal of reflecting on the gospel isn’t to strive for another affection. The goal isn’t to fall in love with some future reality.

The goal of reflecting on the gospel is to fall in love with Jesus.

Jesus is to be our dearest affection. Our first pursuit. Our first love. He is not a means to an end. He is the end. All of those moments you’re at home. Winding down from a long day. Alone.

He is there. Not some future spouse that we so often place on the throne of our hearts.

Pursue relationship with Christ. There is no better time to study every crack and crevice of God’s Word to you, to lift up prayers in an empty apartment, to sing praises in your not so worship leader eligible voice and to get to know your Savior, than when you’re single.

Remember, I am writing all of these things to myself as well. We need to cherish these moments, being just us and Him, because time is in fact running out. If we are called to marriage, time is running out on the gift we've been given of a season in which we can make marveling at our glorious God our undivided pursuit. 

 

Ezekiel 3: The Watchman Part 1

In our last post, we left off with Ezekiel receiving his calling out of priesthood into prophetic ministry, which certainly was not something that he had in his ten year plan, or bucket list of things to do before he died. However, this is what God, in His grand display of majesty, called Ezekiel to do. We’ll go ahead and pick up where we saw Ezekiel last, with a ghoulish hand stretched out to him holding a scroll to Ezekiel with the message that God wants spoken to the rebellious Israelites.

“And He said to me, ‘Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.’ So I opened my mouth, and He gave me this scroll to eat. And He said to me, ‘Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.’ Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey.” (Ezekiel 3:1-3)

Well, that gives a new meaning to the phrase “man shall not live on bread alone.”

We see here that God is preparing Ezekiel for his calling. God is filling Ezekiel with the word that He wants preached to the Israelites (in a more literal sense than we can expect, which is cool with me). What’s beautiful about the Lord’s callings in our lives is that He always equips us to do His work. Does He give us all of the tools we need to complete the project without Him? Absolutely not. There is no mission the Lord sends us on that can be resolved without complete dependence upon Him, and as we mentioned in the last post, that is exactly where we want to be.

Just as man shall not live on bread alone, but on every Word that comes from the Lord (Deuteronomy 8:3), we need to be full of God’s promises as we step out into the unknown, because we surely won’t survive the unknown without His promises written on our hearts, and will be ineffective to minister to others without the gospel anxiously waiting to pour out of our words and actions.

Now, remember from the first post about Ezekiel that stepping out of the comfortable into the uncomfortable doesn’t necessarily mean that God is calling you from working a 9-5 job to transferring onto a mission field in a third world country. Stepping into the uncomfortable could mean having intentional conversations with your co-workers about Christ or sitting down to lunch with a homeless man.

God gives Ezekiel this same type of mission:

“For you are not sent to a people of foreign speech and a hard language, but to the house of Israel –not to many peoples of foreign speech and a hard language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely, if I sent you to such, they would listen to you.” (Ezekiel 3:5-6)  

I am absolutely an advocate of missions trips centered on bringing the gospel to unreached people around the globe.

I think sometimes we forget that the unreached people around the globe can be across the street, too.

I’m not suggesting to you to cancel your overseas missions trip. I’m advocating that you add one.

The ten hours you spend at work today. The trip to the grocery store. During your rest between sets at the gym. The place that makes your coffee just right every morning (or if you’re a hipster, early afternoon). 

These are all mission fields.

If I’m honest, at times I find more comfort in sharing the gospel with someone who has never heard of Jesus at all than sharing the gospel with someone who has pre-conceived notions of who Jesus is, and isn’t afraid to state passionate rebuttals on why he or she doesn’t believe Jesus is the Christ.

To a lot of people, Jesus isn’t good news. To a lot of people, Jesus is seen as a bigot’s form of manipulation. Jesus is seen as an anti-gay activist, not the perfect Redeemer of our souls Who had the full wrath of God poured out upon Him on the cross.

To other people, Jesus is seen as the best news ever because He can make them rich. “Put your faith in Jesus and (most importantly) tithe above and beyond so that you can manipulate God into giving you a couple of new cars, a boat, and early retirement (and best of all, preacher man can buy himself a new plane)!” Christ becomes degraded to an avenue to this group’s best life now instead of being the purpose of life in Himself.

Now tell me, have these people heard the gospel?

Have they heard the real, good news of Jesus, or a fallen sinner’s inability to articulate the beauty of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection in a loving, and truthful way?

The gospel of Jesus is this: We are all sinners. We are sinners by nature and by choice and because of that we are on a trajectory to spend eternity apart from God in hell. But God wasn’t okay with that, so He sent His one and only Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for our sin, in our place, taking the punishment of our sin for us. Jesus rose from the dead three days later victorious over sin and death and all who repent of their sin and put their faith in the work of Jesus as their Lord and Savior have a restored relationship with our Creator, and inherit eternal life.

Oh, the beauty of the free gift of salvation that is being held out to us! And it’s only free for us because Christ paid the ultimate price for it.

The more conversations I have with people about Jesus, the more I realize most have heard some form of the gospel that is broken and it has shaped their view of Christ and what it means to follow Him. I’m always overjoyed to share the gospel with these people…

…Then, when they don’t fall on their knees and beg like the jailer in Acts 16, “What must I do to be saved,” I quickly realize first off, the grace of God, that He revealed His Son to me and opened the eyes of my heart to the glorious gospel of Jesus, but second that there are walls up in this person’s heart that need to be torn down before they will receive the Word.

Ezekiel had this same thing coming to him in his future prophesies to the Israelites:

“But the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to Me: because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart.” (Ezekiel 3:7)

 “Go prophesy to Israel. Oh, and they won’t listen to you,” is essentially what God tells Ezekiel.

Remember, as gospel carriers, our job is obedience. God’s job is breaking down the barriers of an unbeliever’s heart.

Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4 give us great encouragement:

“Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord… For God, Who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:1-5,6)

My prayer for each conversation I have, each message I preach, each action with gospel intention, is that the Holy Spirit would burst forth into each heart and the gospel would create in them an astounding sensation inside their chest asking, “Could it be, that God made a way for me to have a relationship with Him? That He descended from His holy mountain in the form of a man and took the punishment of my sin for me? Oh, what a Savior, what a Friend!”

I want to wrap this post up with some encouragement I found in Ezekiel. After God speaks this ordination over him, Ezekiel, without having time to utter a word is wisped away by the spirit.

“The Spirit lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness in the heat of my spirit, the hand of the Lord was strong upon me. And I came to the exiles… and I sat where they were dwelling. And I sat there overwhelmed among them seven days.” (Ezekiel 3:14,15,16)   

This is one of the reasons I love Ezekiel and I think we can all relate to him. He admits here that he was bitter with his calling and overwhelmed.

Sometimes, being called out of comfort into God’s mission can result in these feelings. The command to going out unto all nations, and all mission fields across the world and across the street can be staggering.

I love how Greg Gilbert puts it in his book, “What is the Gospel?”:

“God intends to bring about His purposes in the world through us? Amazing! But if you feel unworthy and inadequate, let me give you some encouragement. You are unworthy, and you are most certainly inadequate! How’s that for encouragement? Look at us –frail, weak human beings who still struggle against sin every day of our lives. And yet Jesus says to us, ‘You will be my witnesses.’” 

Being overwhelmed is good. Being nervous is good. Being inadequate, hey, that’s okay, too. Why? Because God is in control. He didn’t ask us to change the world without Him. “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age,” said Jesus after commissioning the eleven to make disciples of the nations, and that promise still rings true to us today through the Holy Spirit.

How gracious a God we have to place such a meaningful and rewarding calling on each of our lives… Even if it does feel overwhelming sometimes. We’ll dive deeper into Ezekiel’s added title as a Watchman for Israel in our next post. And I’ll give you a teaser, it has some amazing implications for us as well. 

Ezekiel 2: From Priest to Prophet (Uncomfortable Obedience Part 2)

In the last post, we discussed the power of God in His calling on our lives, and the sacrifice of our comfort, resulting in His glory and the glory that is being prepared for us as we choose a life lived for Christ over one lived for luxurious convenience.

We left off with Ezekiel’s creepy but majestic vision of God and His cherubim in a thunderstorm of fire and rainbows. Still in the midst of this vision, God is about to speak a new calling over Ezekiel’s life.

With Ezekiel prostrate before His glory, the Lord begins to speak:

“And He said to me, ‘Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.’ And as He spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard Him speaking to me. And He said to me, ‘Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants also are imprudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’” (Ezekiel 2:1-4)

God is calling Ezekiel out of priesthood and into prophetic ministry.

Remember, being a priest was a cushy job. It was comfortable. Priests were well respected. They were thoroughly trained in the Law, and that’s exactly what they taught, the Law. No surprises. No hostility. Just good times.

Another way of defining Ezekiel’s calling is this: God was calling Ezekiel out of comfort into discomfort.

As one commentator puts it:

“It would have been much easier for Ezekiel to remain a priest, for priests were highly esteemed by the Jews, and a priest could read the Law and learn everything he needed to know to do his work. Prophets were usually despised and persecuted. They received their messages and orders from the Lord as the occasion demanded and could never be sure what would happen next. It was dangerous to be a prophet. Most people resent being told about their sins and prefer to hear messages of cheer, not declarations of judgment.”

I can pin about two similarities to being a priest and being a prophet. You have to open your mouth and when you do, you speak the Word of God. Other than that, these two occupations are virtually day and night.

Though at this point Ezekiel is probably hoping that God is talking to some guy standing behind him, he remains attentive to the Lord’s words:

“’And you, son of man, be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions. Be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. And you shall speak My words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house.’” (Ezekiel 2:6-7)

There are a couple of things to notice in these verses.

First off, God tells Ezekiel twice not to be afraid of the people he will prophesy to.

Why?

Because He knows Ezekiel is afraid.

God has compassion for His children (Hosea 1:7). He also has compassion for the lost (Matthew 9:36). Remember when Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane before He was handed over to Roman guards for His trial and eventual crucifixion? He was sweating drops of blood because of His distress. But He also modeled for us the perfect submissive response to a calling from God, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will but as You will.”

Christ overcame temptation to flee from His calling to bear the weight of the sins of the world on His shoulders, and through that victory we can agree with the writer of Hebrews:

“For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)

Our Lord, who calls us out of comfort, understands our fear, but loves us so much that He won’t let fear be a roadblock that keeps us from reaching our inheritance that is far more glorious than our comfort.

Notice that God doesn’t sense Ezekiel’s dread and say, “Ah, you’re afraid. I wasn’t expecting that. I’ll get someone else, no worries.”

He knows! And He calls us anyways. How much more glorified He will be in one who’s ill confidence in self is overcome by utmost confidence in God Almighty.

Referring back to Ezekiel 2:6-7, we find comfort in more Words of God.

And you shall speak My words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house.”

God didn’t say, “And you better not screw it up, Ezekiel.”

He told Ezekiel to speak even if no one listens to him.

Do you see it?

God has called us to obedience. The outcome is His doing.

The reward promised us isn’t based on how many souls we bring to Christ through our calling, but is produced at the moment we say “yes” to God.

God says to Ezekiel:

“’But you. son of man, hear what I say to you. Do not be rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.’ And when I looked, behold, a hand was stretched out to me, and behold, a scroll of a book was in it. And he spread it before me. And it had writing on the front and on the back, and there were written on it words of lamentation and mourning and woe.” (Ezekiel 2:8-10)

Now, based on what Ezekiel has seen so far, the slightly disturbing Addams Family-esque hand giving him the scroll to read, and God telling Ezekiel to eat said scroll probably had zero shock factor on him at that point.

But what does this mean?

It means God will enable Ezekiel to complete His work. God will give Ezekiel the words to prophesy to the Jewish exiles in Babylon.

And He will do the same for you in wherever He is calling you to obedience.

We cannot step out unto a calling under our own strength. And God doesn’t ask us to! It is His characteristics. It is His power. It is His faithfulness. It is His immovability that we trust! Our skittish, frantic, double-minded nature isn’t one to bank on. And God’s nature isn’t one to merely retreat to either. He is to go before us! To be behind us! Christ is all around us, defending us as we enter into His work!

However, we won’t see His faithfulness until we step out into the fog.

God equips us and enables us to accomplish what He has asked of us. We won’t be able to walk but two steps into darkness if we’re self-reliant.

It is only through confidence in the Almighty that we can move forward into uncomfortable obedience.

Methodist preacher, William E. Sangster, who helped London endure the Battle of Britain in World War II, said this as he felt God calling him to take on more leadership in the church:

“This is the will of God for me. I did not choose it. I sought to escape it. But it has come. Something else has come, too. A sense of certainty that God does not want me only for a preacher. He wants me also for a leader. I feel a commissioning to work under God for the revival of this branch of His Church (Methodist) –careless of my own reputation; indifferent to the comments of older and jealous men. I am thirty-six. If I am to serve God in this way, I must no longer shrink from the task –but do it. I have examined my heart for ambition. I am certain it is not there. I hate the criticism I shall evoke and the painful chatter of people. Obscurity, quiet browsing among books, and the service of simple people is my taste –but by the will of God, this is my task, God help me.” 

The fact that this uncomfortable calling isn’t one you’ve chosen for yourself is complete evidence that it is of God. Because of this we can rest in knowing that we are inside God’s will.

And it is much better to be uncomfortable inside the will of God, than to be comfortable outside the will of God.

We'll continue further in Prophet Ezekiel's book in the next post. 

 


Ezekiel 1: From Priest to Prophet (Uncomfortable Obedience Part 1)

“God, there’s no way you’re asking me to do that.”

Have you responded to a prompting from the Lord with a similar rebuttal lately? If so, I don’t blame you. Our natural tendency to the Lord’s calling is rationalizations. Why is this natural?

Because we love comfort.

However, God’s promptings are never comfortable. They’re meant to stretch us. To call us out unto the waters of obedience, where faith in Him determines if we sink or swim. Where our prize isn’t fully realized in our comfort, but in His glory.

This is where we find Ezekiel in chapter 1 of his prophetic book. Ezekiel was a priest. He’d been a priest for twenty years. Being a priest at that time was pretty neat. Prestigious career. Admired by many. Studied the Law. Preached the Law. And best of all: It was comfortable.

But that’s exactly where we are when the Lord calls us to step into a deep fog with only His hand to hold, isn’t it?

Toward the end of his tenure as a priest (typically around age 50), Ezekiel received a vision from the Lord that can be summed up as majestic and creepy all at once.

“As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness around it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming metal. And from the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had a human likeness, but each had four faces, and each of them had four wings. Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the sole of a calf’s foot. And they sparkled like burnished bronze…” (Ezekiel 1:4-7) 

Like I said. Creepy. Verses 4-25 give us a vivid description of these creatures known as cherubim. Four faces, wings, human hands, burning bright, eyeballs everywhere, pet wheels that followed them around (accompanied with more eyeballs), moving like flashes of lightening, the sound of their wings like that of many waterfalls. These creatures are lifting up praises to Almighty God who puts the beauty and mystery of the cherubim to shame. They are but a stick figure drawing compared to the grandeur of the glory of our Father and their sole purpose is to magnify God in His holiness.

God then enters above this storm of cherubim:

“And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance. And upward from what had the appearance of His waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of His waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was a brightness around Him. Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around.” (Ezekiel 1:26-28)

God is preparing to speak a new calling over Ezekiel’s life.

Ezekiel. What a lucky guy. He’s about to get instruction from the Lord after a display like that (and trust me, he’ll need it). I wish God would do that for me. Then I would follow Him with reckless abandon like I promised at that youth retreat all those years ago.

Or would I?

Let me ask you this:

Is there anything different about the God that Ezekiel sees in this vision than the God we pursue in our quiet times and lift up in worship throughout the week?

No.

Jesus’ brother, James, magnificently constructs a reminder to the unchangeableness of God in his letter to his Jewish brothers and sisters:

“Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:16-17)

What did Ezekiel see in this vision of God? He saw that God was majestic. He saw that God was powerful. He saw that God was mighty.

Admittedly, that last sentence was a painful one to write. Why?

Because you can’t write about an unchangeable God in the past tense.

But we think that way often times don’t we?

God is just as majestic. God is just as powerful. God is just as mighty as we see in Ezekiel’s vision. He always will be. And guess what, those cherubim are still doing their thing, praising God day and night around His throne, never ceasing and never tiring of lifting Him up, consumed in His glory.  

So, with a comforting reminder of God’s power and omniscience in all areas of our lives, why is it when we feel that God is calling us to do something, we still tend to be hesitant? Like I mentioned at the beginning, it’s our desire for comfort.

Just like the rich young ruler in three of the four gospel accounts, we are willing to submit many things to the Lord, but when the Lord asks us to follow Him into the uncomfortable we choose to hold onto our conveniences and go elsewhere.

We may even sincerely ask Christ like the young ruler, “What do I still lack?” “What must I give in order to do what I know you’ve called me to do?”

The answer is always the same. Your comfort.

The implications will differ from person to person. Comfort to one will vary from comfort to another. But the answer is consistent and will require open hands for the Lord to take as He pleases.

Christ closes His teaching after the young man chooses his riches (comfort) over following Him. Jesus says:

“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19:29)

Houses. Family. Lands.

Comfort.

Notice the promise that Jesus makes after calling for an abandonment of luxury.

The reward will outweigh the sacrifice.

I’m not preaching some earthly prosperity here. Christ promises an incredible inheritance for those that follow Him, but this inheritance isn’t promised to us on earth. There is no way for me to calculate how God will bless His children in this life or the next, but one thing I can say for sure is the coming glory of Christ that we will witness will make every sacrifice seem about as minuscule as a speck of sand on the Australian coast.

Paul says in 2 Corinthians after experiencing (uncomfortable to say the least) extreme persecution in Asia:

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Hear Jesus, through Paul clearly. Our discomfort is momentary and is light compared to the heaviness of the glory we will experience for all of eternity with our Father in heaven. There is not a moment of discomfort for the name of Christ that goes unnoticed. Every second of discomfort for Christ is meaningful! Every uncomfortable conversation you have about Jesus with your neighbor. Every uncomfortable penny you give to missions across the world. Every uncomfortable step you walk towards the homeless man with his lunch in your hand. Every ounce of discomfort that squeezes out of your forehead and drips down your brow for the sake of Christ is preparing for you the glory you will receive from a Father that proclaims to all the heavens, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

Oh, what an inheritance! What a promise!

How gracious a God we have that blesses us through stretching us!

Now, this begs the question: Where is Christ calling you out of comfort? Because the question is never “is God asking you to step out of your comfort zone?” The question is, “Are you listening?”

Know this, I don’t write this post just as a challenge to all of you reading, but as my own nervous reminder to listen to what God is asking me to deny myself of.  

As for Ezekiel, we'll see his call away from comfortable priesthood in the next blog post.

Overcoming Nostalgia

In my last post about nostaligia, I mentioned a personal conviction of the paralysis that accompanies a deep yearning upon reflection of the past. I mentioned that nostalgia is rooted in a prideful discontentment with the current season of life that God has placed you in. Each time we slip into a nostalgic state of mind we are stunted by the past, displeased with the current, and slowing our progression into the destiny that God has planned for us. You can check out that post titled “Is Nostalgia Sin?” here: http://www.firstloveblog.net/blog/2015/3/11/nostalgia

“Here we go again.”

How many times do we have this thought when we wake up in the morning to head to that same old job, drive through that same old traffic, go to serve (as unpleasant as it is to say this) at that same old church group? How often do we think to ourselves, “man, I wish I was back to a different place in my life,” or “can I have a do-over and go back to my high school days?”

I think we can all relate with those thoughts. But where do they come from?

If you look close enough I bet you’ll find a pattern.

We have these kinds of thoughts when we become fatigued and disinterested with the current state of our being. We’re bored. We’re tired. However, mostly, we’re impatient.

If you feel a need to push back on that, let me ask you this: Say you’re an adult who has been single for quite some time, and you’ve just started dating someone. Do you reflect back on the past and say, “I really wish I was back together with my high school sweetheart,” while you're on the way to meet up for a date? NO. You’re excited for this new relationship that the Lord has brought into your life and your mind hardly ever wanders from what the future may hold for the both of you (which needs to be kept with a close eye just as much as nostalgia does). Excitement becomes the conqueror over your nostalgia.

But why did we let nostalgia beat us up until one day something fresh came into our lives?

It’s because we didn’t trust Jesus.

He is the true Conqueror of sin. We could have been walking in victory over nostalgia at any moment because of the peace that we can have when we trust in the loving promises of our Savior.

Ecclesiastes 7:8 says this: “…and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.”

Whether we realize it or not, when we are walking in genuine relationship with the Lord and find ourselves in a state of discontentment, the root of that feeling is pride. We think that our plan for ourselves is better than God’s and that the timing of our plans is better than His timing as well.

In my own experience, I can say that there is nothing more exhausting than refusing to humbly submit to God’s timing and His plans.

In times when day-to-day patterns begin to frustrate me I try to reflect on Philippians 4:4-7:

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” 

The promises in this text should be of great encouragement to us.

First off, “The Lord is at hand”. God is moving. Even if we don’t see evidences of His work in the natural world, we can know that He is moving in the spiritual realm, which will, in time manifest itself before your eyes. In that moment, a veil will be lifted and you’ll see each piece that was certainly in motion to prepare you for God’s good plan for you.

Secondly, because of this, we don’t have to be anxious about anything. There is no better place for the things that you desire, dream about, and love, than in the hands of our sovereign God. Likewise, there is no better place to leave the concrete past, and the wish-I-had-done’s than in the hands of God. When we truly acknowledge God for Who He is, and reflect upon the fact that He gave everything up for us when He gave His Son to die for us, we find rest in knowing that He withholds no good thing from His children (Psalm 84:11).

The result of this is a peace, which is so comforting that we can’t fully understand it, and is only found through humble relationship with Christ Jesus.

This is the place that Christ wants us to be! Full of peace!

Does having everything you want, right when you want it, mean you’ll ever have peace? No! Christ is more concerned about our lasting fulfillment, which is found in Him, not in a temporary high that will surely, in time, fade away.  

How do we recognize that Christ is the supreme fulfillment of our lives?

Patience.

Patience in seasons that don’t make sense to us. Patience in seasons that are so mundane it hurts. Patience in seasons that are so hurtful they lead to despair.

And we don’t have patience because we know that God has blessing for us on the way.

We have patience because Christ is the blessing!

He is not a means to attain a blessing. He is enough. He is preeminent. He is so far above anything else that we could receive in this life and the one to come! All other things pale in comparison to a relationship with Jesus, a relationship that we could only have because He made a way for us to have it by dressing us in His righteousness through His death and resurrection!

Christ has never been a means to a relationship with someone, to a better job, to more money; He is everything! How do you overcome nostalgia? How do you overcome wishing for the past? How do you overcome reflecting upon decisions that may have changed your present?

Make Christ your everything. Set Him upon the throne in your heart that is meant for Him and Him alone. All other desire, all other throne we have bows before the throne of Christ, the King of Kings, our God Who reigns forevermore!

"Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord; His going out is sure as the dawn; He will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth." -Hosea 6:3