A Walk With Jesus

Episode #8

Good God Promises

After the death of Moses the LORD’s servant, the LORD spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant. He said, “Moses my servant is dead. Therefore, the time has come for you to lead these people, the Israelites, across the Jordan River into the land I am giving them. I promise you what I promised Moses: ‘Wherever you set foot, you will be on land I have given you— from the Negev wilderness in the south to the Lebanon mountains in the north, from the Euphrates River in the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, including all the land of the Hittites.’ No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. For I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail you or abandon you. – Joshua 1:1-5 (NLT)

One of the things many of us have in common is the difficulty realizing God’s promises in and for our lives. Many of the promises we read in the Bible, when read in context, can be seen as for a specific person or for God’s people. What we forget is that God says He’s unchanging. What we forget is that we’re God’s people too. No, we’re not the children of Israel, but the Bible says we’ve been adoption as sons of God. Isn’t that amazing. Just read what the Apostle Paul has to say in the passage below.

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 foundation 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. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. – Ephesians 1:3-10 (ESV)

Holy cow does God love us! All those blessing we read about in the Old Testament? Those are for us too! If for no other reason, those promises were a part of the plan of predestination for us. No, we won’t be restored to the promised land after spending 70 years of captivity in Babylon. But I bet many of us find ourselves in captivity to something every once in a while. Maybe it’s a bad job, or a bad habit. God says He can set us free. But even if you can’t buy that, this is undeniably true; all those promises had to be fulfilled in order for Christ to come to this world. And who did He come for? He came for us. God blessed Moses, and Abraham, and Israel, and Joshua, and Ruth, and David, and Solomon, and Elisha, and Adam, and all the prophets and leaders of His people for you. So that right now you could receive His blessing and be thankful. That’s so amazing I don’t even know how to describe it. All of history has come about so that we could be named sons and daughters of God. You and I are loved. Praise God!

But the world doesn’t want us to believe that. The world wants us to believe everything comes by a sort of chance; that everything comes, in a way, from how we respond to the results of chance. The world wants us to believe that life is often a matter of just a flip of a coin. Sometimes it comes up our way, sometimes not. But if we think about it from a scientific perspective, a flip of a coin is not up to chance. It’s the result of the laws of physics and circumstances. If you’re flipping a coin it’s the result of many, many decisions throughout history that brought you to the place where a coin lay in your hand and you were about to flip it. Then you give it a toss. Every action as an equal and opposite reaction right? So the coin tumbles, gravity takes hold, theres a bounce, and another, and there it is, heads; all the result of the physical exertions on the coin. The results are totally predictable, given we have the ability to measure the affecting forces. And so it is with you and all of us. Chance has nothing to do with why you’re here. You’re here because there was a cause; you’re now the effect. That may be comforting or distressing to you. But the truth remains. And His promises remain. And in the end, His promises are good, because He is good and ultimately He wants good for you, His child. By good I don’t mean a lot of money and a nice house and car. If we could see what God has in store for us after this life, I’m not even sure we would count those things as good.

My prayer is that we learn to see what really matters. That we live eternally minded. Because when our minds are set on eternity we begin to realize what really matters. The things that last forever. Cars and houses and possessions do not last forever, but people do. Where do we want to spend eternity? Where do we want our sons and daughters to spend eternity? The Heavenly Father wants His children at home with Him. Will we, can we, live for that; will we, can we, live for His promise?

A Walk With Jesus

Episode #7

Sell Your Heart Out

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16 (ESV)

“Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Those words to that old children’s song speak directly to our hearts and our need. We all, at our core, hope they’re true. Because our hearts depend on it. Because if we’re not loved, than what are we?

Jesus calls us to be people who are on fire for Him. Over and over in the Bible God show’s us His presence through fire. The burning bush that appeared to Moses in the wilderness. Fire. The pillar that went before the Children of Israel, leading them through the desert. Fire. The Spirit of God to the disciples at Pentecost. Fire. This fire wasn’t a physically consuming, but rather, a spiritually enveloping fire. A fire meant to consume the spirit of someone. It’s a fire that sets us on fire for God. It’s a fire we want to spread to the ends of the earth. Because at the heart of this fire is a powerful love.

When you sit down and the words just won’t come out, but you know they’re there. What do you do? Do you squash them down into a small corner of your body in an attempt to forget, or do you search for them to let them out? If they’re meaningful, we try and get them out. Maybe the most meaningful word we have is “love.” It’s not always easy to say, but it’s affective and powerful. The first time you told your significant other, “I love you,” was probably difficult. You probably had to figure out a way to say it. You knew the emotive words were there, you could feel their burning, but the process of getting them out was maybe even a little painful. It was scary for sure. Because love makes us vulnerable in the place we’re most easily hurt. Our hearts.

The hardest things to do in life are usually the most important. They’re hard because those things also make us vulnerable. People want conformity because conformity removes vulnerability. It’s sorta how we’re wired. Every time we do something new or out of the ordinary we step outside normality and enter a new world of vulnerability. When you write a book, you’re not conforming to the norm. It’s hard. When you tell someone you love them, you’re stepping outside the boundaries of what most of the other people in their lives are telling them. It’s scary. Singing through a microphone to a crowd of people definitely is different than what most people are doing. It’s a challenge. All these things are hard because they make us visible, and more than that, critique-able. Especially to the people we care about most; the people closest to us.

Sell your heart out. What do I mean by that? A couple things. If you want to be a success or significant at anything, you have to sell it. If you make friendship bracelets for a living, you have to sell them. That means showing them to people and letting those people judge your work in the hopes they will approve. I also mean, giving up your heart. Our feelings often hold us back from true significance in life. Having a hobby is easy. Making things for ourselves doesn’t incur the nearly the judgements as does making things for others. At some point we have to be able to make ourselves vulnerable. We have to sell out our hearts for a greater gain.

Jesus wants our hearts. He wants us to be sold out for Him. That’s not easy. It’s easy to be a “hobby” Christian. By that I mean, being Christians for ourselves. No one sees or hears about what we believe. But in a way, God wants us to be “professional” Christians. Because professionals don’t keep their products hidden. They show them and sell them. Hoping that one out of 10 people will buy it. I know, comparing evangelism with sales isn’t normal or common. But let me tell you how I think it is a lot the same. A good and affective sales person doesn’t sell for the money. They sell best when they believe in the product so much that they want other people to experience it. Unfortunately, when you’re successful to that end, people will often call you a “sell-out.” When I was a kid there was a term for bands that became successful. Especially punk rock bands. They were called “sell-outs.” I wasn’t that into the underground music scene, so it wasn’t that big of a deal to me. But I couldn’t help but notice that all these bands that were labeled as “sell-outs” also sounded better. Maybe they were in it for the money and not the fans, but to me, they just sounded like a band a lot of people would want to hear. Many of the other bands that didn’t sell-out; well they often didn’t.

You don’t sell BMWs by describing the horrific car accidents you could get into by driving them fast. You sell them by letting people get behind the wheel and step on the gas. The urge of acceleration, the accuracy of the steering, the precision of the suspension; they’re all things that help you go fast, creating risk, but they’re all things that are enjoyable too. In kinda the same way, people want the Gospel because the Gospel is the manifestation of God’s love for us. And we all want to be loved in a profound and significant way. A lot of people don’t want to hear about Jesus. Maybe even most people. But more people want to hear about Christ’s love than God’s judgement. Both are real and true. In the same way, it doesn’t help a lot to tell people they’re gonna go to hell. Even if, by some chance (and we don’t have the ability to judge), it may be true.

If God’s judgement is a reality, the product He wants us spreading is the Gospel. And that’s also the very thing that people need. We all need the Gospel.

Don’t let the idea of staying hidden convince you of its safety. It’s not safer to be underground and invisible. Jesus said, “No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light.” – Luke 11:33 Light is a good thing to have when it’s dark. So is the Gospel. And we’ve been given it, it’s our responsibility to show it. I hope that we can sell-out for that truth. I hope we can sell our hearts out for Jesus; for His love. It’s the greatest light the world has ever known. It shines through the darkness of sorrow and despair. And it shows the way towards hope. And we all need hope.

A Walk with Jesus

Episode #6

Fullness pt. 3

The Fullness of Christ

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.” – John 14:1-7

When I was a kid I liked jumping off the top bunk. There was something exciting in the moments between the leap and the floor. There was a sort of exhilaration in the fall. As we grow some of us graduate from jumping off things altogether and some of us find bigger and higher things to jump from. The exhilaration for many, I think, comes from the lack of control. While we’re falling there’s nothing we can do to stop the process. But we’d never take the leap unless we trusted in the outcome. Whether it be a deep enough pool, a strong enough rope, or a reliable parachute.

There are at least two aspects to every rescue, however. The rescue must be strong enough, and it must be gentle enough as well. The ground is certainly strong enough to catch our fall. But we can’t fall too far before it becomes a deadly end. Water is better, it is much more forgiving than the ground, but again, we can only fall so far before it too becomes deadly. A rope can catch us, but it must be elastic enough to not break our bodies.

The method of rescue must be complete before it can save.

In Christ our rescue is complete because of His power, His love, and His grace. Through His power He built all we know. And with His power He also destroys. God made the world perfectly. He did not want anything wrong with His world. He demands perfection. I know that sounds pretty rough, but it’s the truth. Christ demands perfection. Perfection is the rope that keeps us from being smashed on the ground. Or to put it boldly, perfection is what keeps us in heaven and out of hell. The problem is, none of us are perfect. All our ropes of perfection are broken. But through His grace God gave us His rope of salvation, the perfect person, His Son, Jesus Christ. And He softened it with the Cross, because of His love for us.

The Cross is where God’s perfection, love, grace, and our rescue meet.

The Cross is the fullness of our salvation. It’s God’s perfect tool, able to rescue us from the worst kind of fall. On it Christ took the full brunt of God’s demand for perfection. Instead of punishing us, Christ took our punishment. With a broken heart He died. But with a heart full of love He waits to welcome us home with Him. He didn’t die without a purpose. In His death He purposed life itself. When He rose from the dead on the third day He proclaimed to all the world what He was willing to do for us, and that He has the power to overcome death. That’s the best news I’ve ever heard. That’s the good news of the Gospel and I love to hear it because when I truly look to Christ and what He did I feel compelled to love. And there’s nothing better to fill your heart with than love. The Bible says, “We love because He first loved us.” – 1 John 4:19 Because His love is full and His love fills completely.

Want to feel full? Tired of feeling empty? Christ wants to fill you. If this message is resonating with you, I don’t need to tell you about the influences of this world. How they will leave you wanting. How they want to destroy you. This is how one of Jesus’ disciples, John, put it in 1 John 4:1-3 “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.” I know the spirits and the antichrist stuff isn’t necessarily easy, depending on your background. But John’s audience at the time he wrote this letter would have known exactly what he was talking about. Christians were being brutally persecuted in Rome. Nero, who we still think of synonymously with evil, was the emperor at the time. And there were tons of false teachers trying to subvert the apostles. But here’s the point John is making that I really want you to hear. He goes on to say, “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” 1 John 4:4 (ESV) When we entrust our lives to Christ and make Him our Lord and Savior, the Bible says that He is in us. That’s why we’re called little Christs, or Christians. That doesn’t mean we’re perfect like Christ, but that Christ perfects us by forgiving us of all our sins through His grace in a relationship with Him. And it’s in that relationship that we are changed. All our motivations, our desires, and our thoughts are changed in a relationship with Him. Because of love.

I want you to feel full. I’m tired of all the emptiness in the world. We all have bad days, but I’m tired of seeing people who believe their lives are bad. I’m tired of seeing people with no hope. I want people to know Christ. I want people to understand the phrase found in Colossians 1:27, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Christ came to give us hope. He came to rescue. He came for you. He came to fill you. And if He fills you, you will be full.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. – Galatians 4:4-7 ESV

A Walk with Jesus

Episode #5

Fullness pt. 2

Anchored to the Rock

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. – Galatians 4:4-7 ESV

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” – Matthew 21:42-44 (ESV)

You may have never felt loved in your life. And because of that you’ve had to control your life as much as you possibly could. But now you’re out of control and you have no idea what to do. But Jesus saves.

You may have never loved in your life. And because of that you don’t see how you could ever be loved by another. But Jesus loves.

You may have done everything you think is right. But somehow the results aren’t what you’ve expected. And you don’t see the point anymore. But Jesus lives.

The Gospel is this. No matter what you’ve done, or who you are, Jesus saves. That’s the Gospel.

But the Gospel requires an admission of guilt doesn’t it? Because after all, if we have nothing to be saved from, why should we be saved? That idea is why it’s so hard for many of us in the West to accept the Gospel. Many of us have never felt a need to be saved. But we all need saved; that’s the message of the Gospel too. We all need saved… When a rescuer comes to save us we must put our trust in that rescuer. That means we must do everything they say and put our lives in their control. God planned a rescue mission for us when He created us.

As a member of the Oregon Air National Guard I work on F-15 Fuel Systems. That means that sometimes I have to go inside fuel tanks in the jet to work on components inside them. I’ve never seen someone get trapped or hurt, but the risk is there. Therefore, a we create something called a Master Entry Permit. That permit requires that we make a rescue plan for anyone that goes into a tank or confined space. Just in case something bad happens.

When God created us, He wanted us to have free will. He wanted us to be able to choose or reject Him. So He gave us the means and ability to do just that. He said you can do all this stuff, but I’m asking you not to do that. If you do that, you are rejecting Me, the giver of life, and you will die. When God did that, He knew He was risking the lives and the safety of the people He loved. God wanted His creation to have both autonomy and safety, so He gave us the ability to choose, and He designed a rescue plan. At the center of that plan is Jesus, our rescuer, our Savior.

No one is good enough to make it to Heaven, it doesn’t matter how bad you want to go and how good you think you are. God says, no one is good enough to get to Heaven on their own. Because admission to Heaven requires perfection. But no one is perfect; so how? We need a perfecter. And to be saved we need a Savior, and that Savior by definition must be greater than us. Jesus came to rescue all of us from sin and death. That Savior must be our Lord. Christ must become the Lord of our lives. Are we willing to lay down our weapons of life and put our trust in Him? He’s our only hope.

When climbers scale a stone face, they don’t rely on there ability to fly to save them from a fall. But we often live that way. Life comes with pitfalls we can’t rescue ourselves from. Yes, we may be living and walking around. But many of us aren’t alive inside. We’re not saved to something greater. We fall prey and we rely on ourselves to rescue. And it never works. Climbers anchor themselves to the rock so that if, so that when, they make a mistake, the rock will be able to save them. That’s a little glimpse into the Christian life as well. We can’t save ourselves from our falls. So we must be anchored to The Rock.

It’s in our anchoring that grace and truth comes to our lives. John 14:1 says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” There’s a reason Christ came with grace and truth. The truth without grace crushes without mercy. It imprisons and forever shames. It says, “You’re this and you’ll never be different.” It’s hopeless. But grace with truth? It says, “I love you no matter what.” “I’ll save you no matter why you need saving.” A mountain climber who believes he can fly will be killed by the truth that he can’t. A person tethered to the Rock can never fall because the rescue is constantly attached.

And what is truth? Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” –  John 14:6 But that’s not the end of His statement. The second part is a little harder.

To be continued…

 

A Walk with Jesus

So that we might recieve adoption.jpgEpisode #4

Fullness, pt. 1

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. – Galatians 4:4-7 (ESV)

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. – 2 Timothy 1:7 (NLT – New Living Translation)

What a statement! To start, God did not give us a spirit of fear. Ever felt afraid? Like me, I’m sure you have. Isn’t it comforting and empowering to know that God does not want us to be afraid. But instead to have, power, love, and discipline. For full disclosure, as I write this I’m fearful. Fearful that (to be honest) as a Christian man I’m being ostracized from any sort of public debate. I’m afraid of what this country (The United States) will become if we turn our backs on Christ. I’m afraid of all the things that people can do and think of me. And if you’re being honest, I bet there are things you are afraid of too. Maybe your fears are the opposite of mine. Maybe you’re afraid that Christian men will send the country back into the dark ages of oppression. Maybe you’re afraid of losing all the ground you’ve felt has been made over the years and you’ll have to start over. Maybe you’re afraid of what people can do and think of you too. But what a statement! God did not give us a spirit of fear.

We fear because we haven’t put Christ ahead of our fears. In a way we’re worshiping our fears rather than Christ. And we’re worshiping our ability to subjugate our fears to our desires over Christ and His will. That doesn’t mean we don’t take action. It means that we act in accordance with the will of God, knowing that He is in control. It means that we are agents for Christ and He is not bound by our human desires. It means that He works through us in this world and that He has already done the work to ultimately save us from all our fears.

No one knows what is going to happen in the future except God Himself. What we can know is that God is in control. I don’t know how it all works. What I do believe is that, as my pastor Daniel Fusco says, we have levers on our side of the wall and God has levers on His side of the wall. Obviously God’s levers override ours, but we are not to ignore our levers. Because ultimately God gave us our levers. And what God has given us we are commanded to use for Him. Even when it seems futile. To God nothing is futile, because He knows the end from the beginning and sees how every act works towards His goal. We may not know what is going to happen tomorrow, but God knows.

There is comfort for us knowing that God knows. Sometimes the only words of comfort a mother can provide a child are “I know.” And so… When we’re hurting, God says, “I know.” When we’re afraid, God says, “I know.” When we’re angry, God says, “I know.” He knows all the events and feelings of humanity. In fact God sent His Son down to us to experience humanity with us, so that He could do the greatest thing for us. Save us from ourselves.

We need saving from ourselves because we have bastardized all the things God gave us. He gave us power and we’ve use it to hurt one another. He gave us love and we’ve perverted it from something we must give into something we must get. He gave us discipline and instead of using it to serve others we’ve used it to serve our own desires. No wonder we feel afraid and timid. We’ve made ourselves the center of our universe having no power over it.

When we put God first, we cede power to Him over our universe. And because He created the universe for Him, He is in control of it. We, no matter what we think, do, or accomplish, can never, have never, and will never be in control. Disagreeing with that truth will only create chaos and confusion; in our world and in our hearts. The thing is, God gave us the ability to create chaos and be confused. He gave us the ability to make mistakes and mess things up. And that’s what we’ve always done. The good news is that God made a plan for that too. A plan that put us first, in that He chose to serve us through it. Because He loves us that much.

God created us for His joy. And as His joy, He wants to serve us. We are not His master, but He is like a husband to us. His desire is for us, that we would be safe and secure. He chose to die serving us. Because that’s what a loving husband would do for His family. Especially when through death we can have an eternal life of pure joy. A life free from the confusion and fights we endure here. A life free from the fear we feel here. A life of true power, love, and discipline. A life worshiping our Creator and God in joy.

The Good News, the Gospel is this. That no matter what we’ve done, we are valuable enough to die for. No matter what we think, we are priceless to God. No matter what mistakes we’ve made we can still enjoy heaven. Not because something we can do to compensate for our sins. Not because we’ve lived a good life. Not because we deserve it. But that we’re loved enough that the Creator of the universe wants to be with us.

To be continued…

A Walk with Jesus

Episode #3

Inspirational Effort

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:1-2 (ESV)

Imagine for a second with me. The fight is on. Theres a good guy. And of course a force for evil. The struggle begins. Theres is a crash and a flash. Thunder claps and lightening strikes. Death is coming and between it and us is life. It’s gonna take a will. But more than will, it’s gonna take a struggle. A fight! It’s gonna take all our energy and endurance. There’s a superhero and a villain. The fight has come for you. Nothing could be done to avoid it. The struggle has been put in place and now it’s time to struggle—For life itself.

What inspires you?

I ask because I don’t think we’re inspired by what we think we are. Not always. We often look to sports heroes, talent, and real heroes for our inspiration. I could tell you of men consciously and literally giving their last breaths on purpose for a purpose on the battle field. I could tell you about athletes who’ve done things we almost couldn’t imagine. I could tell you about singers who could bring tears to your eyes with a single note. And I could say that they’re all inspiring individuals. And I’d be right in a way. But it’s not the person who’s inspiring. It’s what they do that’s inspiriting isn’t it? If Adele never sang a note you’d never even know her name. If Michael Jordan never picked up a basketball you wouldn’t recognize him on the street. And if Jeanne refused to go to war, that little peasant girl would have never been known as the heroine we know her as now and you would have never heard the name Jeanne D’Arc, Joan of Arc.

It’s not skill, looks, or position that inspire us. It’s almost always effort. I’ve heard jockey’s say that there’s nothing like coming down to the end of a race, when they ask their mount for effort and the animal responds with all they have. I’m inspired by that, because I don’t know if I’ve ever done anything with all I have. It’s hard to give all we have. Because we don’t have to. For most of us, there’s no lion chasing us. We’re not continually threatened. At least not that we see. But when sickness comes we rush people to the emergency room. And we expect every effort on behalf of the people we love. Every once in a while we encounter real effort. And it’s inspiring.

It’s effort, more than anything, that is inspirational. We don’t think of it, because it’s usually invisible to us. How many songs did our favorite singers have to sing to reach the point to where their voices finally reached around the world to meet our ears. The athletes that inspire us have to continually sacrifice their comforts and desires in order to give their bodies the ability to do the things that we call inspirational. For any warrior to gain any sort of notoriety, they must first be willing to fight to the death. And how much would you practice your skill if you knew that your skill would determine your life or death?

There’s a reason the Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 1:21 “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Because his life was lived at full effort for Christ and for the people who needed Christ, including you and me. He lived as though life was a race to reach people with the Gospel. He struggled through threats and promises of death and torture. Through it all he remained faithful to his mission. Not forsaking but partaking in the immortal struggle between life and death, so that so many could see the face of the greatest warrior. Because of Paul so many have seen a glimpse into the struggle of Christ. Who willingly stepped into the space between death and His people. With a strong arm and a deadly instrument He went to war against the devil himself. Sometimes we don’t recognize it because His effort is veiled in humility. He is stronger than any, but His chosen weapon to save us is a cross. We see it as a simple wooden construct, constructed by men intending to torture another to death. But to the power of Christ it becomes the literal sward in the stone of Golgotha. Only He is able to wield it in battle against the powers of evil and darkness. It is His weapon of light for those who would trust in Him. For three days He removed Himself from view. Fighting for life where we could not see. But on the third day He rose victorious and calling all of us to follow in the safety of His wake of victory.

Nothing inspires like the victory of Christ. Through it He calls us to take up our crosses too. Because what else could we do, when nothing less than life is at stake. Paul felt that urge as much as any man in history. He saw and described the Christian life as a race, saying, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” – 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

In all of creation there’s nothing more inspiring than full effort. Because it’s what we were created for and it’s the example God Himself gives. Every piece of creation was created to, like Him, give full effort. Plants that do not continually reach for life giving nutrients wither and die. Animals who do not continually struggle for their food will surely starve eventually. And people who do not…

What if we gave our full effort?

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing. – Paul – 2 Timothy 3:6-8

A Walk with Jesus

Episode #2

The Power of His Word

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth. – Ephesians 1:7-10

I’m constantly amazed at scripture. But that is to be expected, isn’t it? Because, after all, it is God’s word. We should be amazed at scripture. Because God’s Word is amazing. Would we expect anything less than AMAZING from something we call “The Word of God?”

It’s not easy. And we shouldn’t expect it to be easy. It should be open enough for a child to grasp the point and deep enough for the greatest of minds to explore for a lifetime. And that’s exactly what we have in the Bible. Jesus’ love is simple to a child because Jesus simply calls them. He said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 19:14 He didn’t say, wait till you’re older and “smart” so you can try and figure Me out and understand Me. No, He says come and let me love you and teach you. His Word is simple like that, but at the same time The Word is challenging and it calls us to be greater than we currently are. Jesus said to His disciples, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” – Matthew 10:16 Jesus calls us close, teaches us, then sends us out. And He does it primarily through His word.

Very few people were, or are, ever affected by God without His Word. “But what about the people inviting their friends to church? What about the missionaries building houses for the poor? What about the Christian who says we should act a certain way? What about the pastor who says Jesus died for our sins? What about the parent who prays with their kids before bed and tells them that Jesus loves them?” You might be wondering. “They’re not the Word.” And you’re right. People can’t supplant the Word of God. But the Word of God calls us to be Jesus’ “Hands and feet.” The Word has an affect on those who listen. It leaves us changed. It calls us into new life. It plants seeds who sprout and reproduce many more seeds. The Christian does nothing without being first affected by the Word.

Paul said, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” – ! Corinthians 13:11 And that’s exactly what a life lived with Jesus looks like. We begin with faith like a child, simple, easy, and natural. Of course Jesus loves us, the Bible tells me so. But as we grow the simple faith is challenged by all sorts of things. We need deep truths to rebut their influences. So God provided us with prophecy. He laid out a plan and stuck to it. He sent His Son right on time, exactly when and how He said He would hundreds of years earlier… In His word. It’s difficult to study things like Daniel’s 70 weeks prophecy. We need the knowledge of astronomers with PhDs to do it today. It’s difficult to imagine the picture Isaiah was depicting in Isaiah 53. But with Jesus’ crucifixion in hindsight we can. God’s word, though unchanging, is not static to us. It provides new insights all along a path following Jesus, and new insights shed light onto it’s truthfulness as well.

Through a life walking with Jesus, we’re continually called to a deeper relationship with Him. He calls us as children and continues throughout our lives to demand faith like a child’s from us. Because a child’s faith, while simple, is not simplistic. Children do not understand gravity, but they have faith in it. They just know. Children know that God loves them. It’s not hard to teach them that because it’s their natural state. Just like it’s not hard to teach them they could get hurt if they fall. Around the world people, who’ve never even heard of God’s word, claim that there is a God, and that He cares. Who He is and how He works is a mystery, but the seed of faith is there. But God didn’t make seeds to be dormant. He made them to grow into beautiful things. He wants our faith to grow into beautiful things as well. But like any seed, it needs, nourishment to grow. May I introduce you to His Word!

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” — “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:1-5, 14

“If you knew the gift of God, and what it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” – John 4:10

“I am the Bread of life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” – John 6:35

Even Jesus, the Son of God longed for the Word of God. “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” – Matthew 4:4 That was Christ’s rebuke to Satan for tempting Him to turn stones into bread after a 40 day fast in the Middle Eastern desert. Jesus was quoting from Deuteronomy a passage meant to remind that…Well, let me just give you the Bible again. Deuteronomy 4:1-3 says, “The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers. And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these 40 years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. And He humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with mana, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” God’s word is sustaining for life. It’s a breath of fresh air. It’s food for our souls, and as strange as it may sound, sometimes it quenches our hunger as well.

I remember watching a movie called “The Book of Eli.” It’s a story set in a dark post apocalyptic future. One where nuclear war had destroyed almost all we know now. It was like hell on earth. I don’t want to give away the plot if you haven’t seen it, but there’s a part of the movie that shows a man just reciting scripture. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, let there be light: and there was light” It was a light shining in the story. After all was lost. After everything was blanketed with darkness, God’s word spoke. It lifted the story out of depression and into hope.

Today life may be dark for you. Your life may even seem a little, “Post apocalyptic,” and hopeless, but God calls us out of darkness. He calls you out of darkness. “But you are a chosen race,” the Bible says, “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” – 1 Peter 2:9 You may have never believed the Bible before. Or you may have studied it your whole life. Either way, there’s something compelling about its Word. The Word that calls us out of darkness into marvelous light. It encompasses our lives. No matter what experiences we may be going through, it provides guidance. Just like a compass provides a direction, no matter where we might find ourselves lost. Like the Psalmist declares, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. – Psalms 119:105 Let that lamp light up your way. People were not meant for darkness. It blinds us and that is always frightening, because darkness has a way of removing our most treasured possession, “Hope.” But “Perfect love casts out all fear” – 1 John 4:18 And what does God call Himself? “God is love” – 1 John 4:8 And this thing we call the Bible is a way that He’s given us to hear His loving word. Among other things, it’s a love letter to us, it’s a light in the darkness, it’s guidance when we’re lost, and it’s good news of salvation to any who would accept it. When you’re at the end of your rope and you know you need saving. Pick it up. When you’re saved and you know it, pick it up. When Jesus calls, pick it up. You’ll never regret believing in it. I promise you that. Because the Bible is our message of HOPE.

“Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. – 1 Corinthians 13:8-13

A Walk with Jesus

Episode 1

Serving God

“For the Holy Spirit will teach you that very hour what must be said.” – Luke 12:12

When God calls you to serve, what should you do? Serve right? But how? When? Where? The answers to those questions seem impossible sometimes. But that’s because we look at the questions wrong. The answers usually dictate themselves to us. That is if we’re following and serving God.

For years I wrote a blog every day called “The Daily Self Growth Journal.” It started out in the beginning with a Bible verse for God’s wisdom, a quote I thought was inspiring, and a vocabulary word I though could add knowledge. That’s it. Then I decided to add a message of my own. It wasn’t good at first. I mean the Bible verse was good, but that’s all I can guarantee. Through years of literally doing it every day however, I built up a little bit of skill I think. (Probably not much though) I did it because it wasn’t just about the writing. It wasn’t about me either. It was about serving where I could, when I could, and how I could. And I learned through the process. I learned to observe. I learned to serve. I learned to care about other people I didn’t even know. I learned how to be diligent when I didn’t have to be. And I learned how to follow God. Even if no one noticed.

There’s a phrase we sometimes use to describe going through tough and arduous times without anyone seeing. We say we’re “In the trenches.” In the trenches we work hard; we put our blood, sweat, and tears into things. And we often feel that no one sees. Because that was kinda the point of trenches; this brutal way of fighting that developed during WWI. Trenches were a way of being effective without being noticed. Because it was safer to go unnoticed. And that’s the way workers often like to do their best work; unnoticed, in the trenches, safe. And that’s a good thing. But trenches also came with their own dangers. Soldiers suffered from trench foot because they couldn’t get dry. Sometimes they would collapse, killing the men that were seeking their protection. And then came the gas. Heavier than air poisonous gas could settle in, turning them into death chambers. The trenches of warfare are valuable, but they weren’t ultimate, and there are times we have to fight on open ground too.

War isn’t safe. And sometimes it appears that a life following Christ is dangerous as well. And mortally speaking, it can be. But eternally speaking… It’s the only safe place there is. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” – John 14:6 Why did He say that? Was it to lay down the law. To set forth some sort of follow the leader gauntlet like so many dictators in history? No. In fact Jesus showed us and called us into a leadership that, while authoritative, was centered on service. In fact, in one of His leadership lessons He told His disciples this.“You know that the rulers of the gentiles dominate them, and the men of high position exercise power over them. It must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must become your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:25-28 The reason we can’t win this war and be saved without Jesus is because He’s the only one with the ability to win the fight. He’s our only safe bet.

Jesus calls us to the fight too however, but not without providing what we need to win. Judges chapter 7 in the Bible describes how God used Gideon to fight the Midianites and free Israel from their rule and oppression. First he convinces Gideon, through a few tests, that He’s serious about using Him to do this thing. Then He empowers Gideon with leadership and some followers. 32,000 men were ready to follow Gideon in going to war against Midian. Then God sharpened His spear by reducing the number of Gideon’s men to 300. 300 men were chosen to fight an army of thousands. The Bible says the Midianites and the Amalekites were gathered on the valley floor like grasshoppers in number. That their camels (supply chain) were without number, like the sand by the seashore. But God didn’t ask Gideon and his men to go to the battle without courage. God told Gideon to go down by the camp and spy on the enemy, and to take a partner if he was afraid to go by himself. And God showed Gideon how weak the enemy was. They were great in number, but they lacked courage. God had Gideon listen in on a conversation between a couple of the enemy soldiers. But this wasn’t any conversation. It was a conversation about a dream one had seen while the other gave its interpretation. And it wasn’t any dream. It was a dream God gave the Midianites that Gideon would win this battle and this war. Both sides knew, after that, who would win. All Gideon had to do was follow God and act.

God’s set up the victory for us, if we’d just follow Him and take action. We don’t and won’t always feel impassioned. Sometimes our words will come more like a grudging trudge than an inspired run. One word after the other, just keep going. One more act of kindness, just keep going. One more smile… We’re doing God’s work, whether it feels good or not at the time. Because feeling good about something isn’t always a good indicator that it is good. It had to have been frightening and couldn’t have felt right from a human perspective for Gideon to lead 300 men against tens of thousands of  Midianites, but He followed God into the fight anyway, because He had God’s perspective. On the other hand, how many times have you done something because it felt good, but turned out to be a mistake when your perspective changed? Perspective is important. Especially when we’re on a mission.

So this is a return to a fight for me. Not a return to following God, I haven’t stopped doing that. But a return, more specifically, to this fight. Using my words to show who God is, what He’s done, and what He wants to do. He wants to do great things. And it’s a mistake to think that God won’t be able to do what He wants to do. But we have the choice, many of us, to come with God, to be used by Him, to follow Him. And that’s where I dream of seeing more and more people. Being with God, being used by Him, and following Him wherever He leads.

My goal is to publish an uplifting word every Monday morning to provide a little encouragement and a fresh perspective on the week to come. Because, as we all know, sometimes Mondays can be difficult. The joy of the weekend is over and it’s the beginning of the weekly slog. I don’t want anyone’s week to be a slog. I dream of people being fulfilled in what they do. I want people to see every day as a day of joy, because every day was given to us by God. Not every day brings with it good news or happiness. But every day can bring with it purpose. That’s hard to imagine I know. But its reality becomes clearer when we live on a walk with Jesus.

So join me on “A Walk with Jesus.” Let’s get to know one another on the best journey ever; the journey of a life with Jesus. Let’s encourage each other in following God into places we’d never thought we’d go. Let’s build each other up to trust that the fight is God’s and if it’s His than the fight has already been won. Let’s simply live for Christ. And let’s do it together because Christ sent out His disciples in pairs for a reason. We’re stronger, we’re bolder, we’re more courageous, when we’re on a team.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.” – 2 Timothy 1:7

I love you guys and I’m praying you have a blessed day and a purposeful week.

Jake

Love Nation 2016 (Day 20)

Leap Day

My daughter has a favorite show she likes to watch on TV. Not just a show in general—as in the series—but a particular episode. She simply calls it “Snow.” It’s actually an episode of a kids show called “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” (A spinoff of “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood”) in which Daniel sleds down a hill, goes ice skating, and learns to dance in the “Nutcracker.” I’m not sure why she likes this particular episode so much, but after getting a little annoyed I became happy too. Because, as many kid’s shows can, it teaches a good lesson. Through a little song it teaches that “If something is hard to do, try it a little bit at a time.” I found myself singing that song one day and thought, “You know, that’s a really good lesson to teach kids.” Then I thought, “You know, that’s a really good lesson for me too.” There lots of things worthwhile in life that are very hard and scary to do, and I think we often give up on trying because we don’t know how to accomplish the whole goal. But what if we learned to try it a little bit at a time?

This month I’ve presented a number of examples of amazing, sacrificial, generous, and courageous love. And it can be scary to think about trying to live up to them. My goal however, was not to try to persuade anyone that we need to be living up to them tomorrow. I’m the last person to expect that from anyone, because I’m a poor example of living that way myself. My goal was to inspire to greatness. Most of us won’t be in a position to die from someone else; thank goodness. But knowing that others have made that decision makes smaller acts of love seem a little easier I think. If someone is willing to give their lives, can we give a few dollars to show love to another?

It’s rather fitting that as I write this it is the 29th of February, 2016, leap day. A day that only comes once every four years during leap year. Maybe today can be a leap day for different reasons. Maybe rather than just being a day that lets our Calendar catch up to the Earth’s orbit of the Sun, it can also be a day we make a leap for love. Maybe today we can decide to love, maybe just a little bit at a time. Today let’s take that leap of courage and decide to not only love, but also let love into our lives. Perhaps today is that day we first let Jesus into our lives fully and not just a little. It may be hard to do, but it is well worth it. Because life is hard, and loving is hard, but Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30

I hope you’ve enjoyed this month of Love Nation 2016. It’s been fun finding all the stories of love to share. Although at times it’s been difficult too. I hope the stories blessed you like they did me. And I pray this year fills your life with love and that you get to share a little bit of that love with the world too. We all have love in our hearts, let’s let that love shine.

God Bless You,
Jake

Love Nation 2016 (Day 19)

Good News!

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16 (ESV)

It’s a verse that if you only know one Bible verse chances are it’s that one. Most people who’ve grown up around a Christian culture or society have heard it. It’s what we as Christians rely on every day. God’s love… Because God’s love provided Christ by whom we are saved. He died and rose again so that we too can rise again to a greater existence. Through the lens of Christ’s sacrifice for us we can see life differently. Tragedy can turn to triumph, loss to gain, and sorrow to joy.

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” – John 3:17 (ESV)

Maybe life is looking pretty bleak right now. Maybe sorrow is overcoming or guilt is overwhelming. Maybe the hardships of life have you feeling that there is no point. Maybe hope is fading along with the sense of purpose you once felt. Or you’re perfectly content. Whatever place in life you’re in right now, Christ is still there. He’s still in love with you. His sacrifice still counts. His condemnation is still gone. If you believe…

“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” – John 3:18-19 (ESV)

Love is not created equal. Obviously there are different types of love. Romantic love, love for friends, love of things. But there is only one love that saves. In Greek it’s called Agape Love. In English we say it’s unconditional love. It’s something we hope for from our closest friends and family. But the truth is, God is the only one we can know that loves us truly unconditionally. I pray we get to know His love. I pray we feel His love more and more in our lives. I pray that we choose to love Him. Because all the love in the world means very little without the Creator of love. Jesus’ love saves. It gives hope. It provides purpose.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” – Romans 1:16 (ESV)

What is the Gospel? It is simply the message of the love of Christ for you and for me. And it is very good news.

God Loves You,
Jake