Unearned

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Not much is free in life. We have to work hard to earn the things that we have. Maybe that’s why many people who believe in Heaven believe they have to earn their way there (whether that’s subconscious or forefront mentality). Go to church,  be a good person, read your Bible, avoid doing wrong things, believe in God — is this how you get there? Nothing is free in life, could entrance into the eternal presence of your Maker be?! Can you earn your way to Heaven?

In Matthew 19, a rich young man was having an exchange with Jesus. He wanted to know what good thing he must do, to ensure his ticket into eternal life. Let’s read this conversations, Matthew 19:16-19:

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” “Which ones?” he inquired. Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Jesus states that there is only “One” who is good, referring to God (Himself), but continues to say that if you want eternal life, keep the commandments, then rattles off some of the big ten. Jesus was saying if you can keep all the commandments (of which there were 613 of them in the Old Testament), this is how you could earn eternal life… He continues, Matt 19:20-22:

“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Apparently the young rich man knew the rules well, and was trying hard to keep them! But he knew something was still missing. Knowing the man was wealthy, Jesus pressed into an area where he may have difficulty keeping commandments, tells him to sell everything and follow. Jesus was not saying that no people with a lot of money can be granted eternal life, he was pointing out that man could not keep all the commands. Greed kept him from loving others like he loves himself - certainly if he loved others like himself, he’d do everything in his power to make sure the poor were taken care of. And beyond loving others as himself, he put his money before God - loved money before God (breaking the very 1st commandment to not put anything above God).

Jesus made the point that no one can keep all the commands perfectly, but perfection is the standard we’re held to. In Matt. 5:48, Jesus said, “You must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” To be “good enough” to be worthy of eternal life, perfection is required — keeping all the commands is required. 

So, can you earn your way to Heaven? The answer is not unless you’re perfect. The point I am trying to make is that there is no amount of going to church, reading Bible, doing good things, avoiding bad things, or being nice that can earn your way to have a relationship with God. James 2:10 says that even if you kept the entire law perfectly, but failed once, you are guilty of all — meaning, just one mistake, that’s all it takes to tarnish the standard of perfection. So if you have lied a single time, cheated once, disobeyed your parents in a single moment — that’s all it takes for a separation from perfection… Galatians 2:16, Paul states three times (in this one verse alone), that we cannot be made right by the things that we do.  

I am not intentionally trying to make us all feel bad, simply getting us to think through that there is a problem that we need a solution for! Every single one of us messes up, and just one mistake keeps us from God’s presence (because of His perfection and holiness), so perfection is required! If the story of the Bible ended there, we’d be in trouble, but it doesn’t end there. God isn’t some God that coldly makes us obey all these rules, and if not, you’re toast (rules btw, that are in place for OUR GOOD — see blog Do’s and Dont’s). Because of God’s great love and mercy, He sent His Son Jesus to be our perfection. Read Ephesians 2:1-5:    

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 

We are going to talk all about that grace next week, but for now, consider… is this something that you have already been aware of, you know your sins and you have been saved by grace — is this a reminder that you needed, to maybe bring you back to a place of repentance and closeness to Jesus? Or at least a reminder of what Jesus did for you, a reminder to be grateful? Or, is this a new revelation for you? Have you been trying to “be good” and earn your way to Heaven, without realizing that’s impossible to do? Ask for the forgiveness of your sins and accept the free gift of grace that only Jesus - in HIS perfection, death, and resurrection - can offer!

Hard to Love (Message by: Marc Hughes)

Yesterday we discussed how the Bible often asks us to do things that push us out of our comfort zone. We specifically discussed an area that I feel is one of the hardest to live out. We talked about how Jesus asks us to love our “Enemy”. For us today, we may not have “enemies”, but we definitely have people in our lives who are hard for us to love. Whether it be a bully, someone who frustrates you, someone who falsely accuses you, someone who insults you, or any other hurtful type of person; the question is “How can we Love those who hurt us?”.

To answer this we looked at WHAT specifically Jesus asks of us. In Luke 6:27-31, Jesus commands his followers to Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you, and other such commands. Before we explored how we could practically live this out in our day to day lives, we asked the question, “WHY should we do this?”. To answer this valid question we went to the book of Romans. Paul tells us in Romans 5:6-8 that Jesus loved us while we were technically still his enemies. Jesus gave his life for us while we were still sinners and because He loved us, we can now move forward with that same love. So now that we know the why, this leads us to address, “HOW do we actually live this out?”. 

To address this we took a closer look at what Jesus asks of us in Luke. The ultimate conclusion from our lesson was to understand why Jesus asks us to respond to hatred with love. Fighting fire with fire creates a bigger fire, fighting hatred with hatred creates more hate, but fighting hate with God’s love has the power to defeat hatred and change a persons heart. Jesus asks us to show people the forgiveness and love that he showed us and in doing so we can point them to Jesus in the process. 

 

Do's and Don'ts?

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We do not like to be told to do things we don’t want to do, and don’t like to be told not to do things that we want to do. When you’re a kid, being told to do chores is not usually met with excitement, and being told to stop playing video games can be met with argument. Without a close look at what it mean to have a relationship with Jesus, people can write off Christianity as this religion of do’s and don’ts - you have to do a bunch of things that you don’t necessarily want to do, and can’t do things that your human nature pushes you to innately do. Is Christianity just a religion of do’s and don’ts that we have to follow simply because God rigidly says so? How should we view the commands of the Bible?

Psalm 1 gives us a great picture of a way we should view following God’s commands. Psalm 1:1-2 says:

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.

Blessing speaks to favor, protection, all the good things. These verses share that those who do what is right leads to blessing, but to walk in wickedness and sinful lifestyle, influenced by unrighteousness will lead to the opposite! The one who delights in the law of the Lord, who meditates on God’s Word and the commands he has set in place for us to follow, will be blessed. The next verses give us a great mental picture of what this looks like, Psalm 1:3-4:

That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers. Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away.

The blessed person who delights in doing what is right is depicted as a fruitful tree - speaking to strength, life, stability, provision and goodness. But the person who walks in the step with the wicked is like a chaff, the outer shell (husk) that must be removed to get the valuable kernels of grain inside — easily tossed by the wind, tossed away, crushed — picture of faithless life that drifts without direction. 

This picture gives us a good perspective to have on how to view keeping God’s commands. How should we view the commands of the Bible? Know that obeying God is for your benefit. It leads to blessing, it leads to strength, life, provision, etc. God doesn’t have commands in place for the sake of given us a to-do/to-don’t list. Beyond the fact that it is honoring, worshipful, and respectful for us to obey our Heavenly Father (please read: that should be a driving motivator to obey!), following God’s commands is legitimately beneficial to your life! 

Think through this example with me: what does the Bible say about words? We should use them to build each other up, speak in love, speak in truth, do not slander, don’t lie, don’t gossip, etc. (Ephesians 4:29, Colossians 3:8, 4:6, 1 Thess. 5:11, to name a few). These are some commands on how we should/shouldn’t use words. Now in your life, if you regularly speak in love, truth, and encourage people up - how would that impact your relationships? That would result in good things - people will look to you as a loving, kind person and will result in you even receiving a lot of love and positive encouraging words back. But if you were constantly lying, gossiping about other people, slandering others — how would that impact your life and relationships? People will view you negatively, people will talk bad about you, gossip about you, etc… See how following these commands directly result in a better life for you! 

The commands God has in place are for your benefit, not just a cold rule book of things we have to do and don’t do. There are commands that are difficult to do, and we’ll struggle with them because we’re human… But the better we honor and respect God by keeping His commands, the greater our life will be. 

Open Arms

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This Sunday was a special Sunday for N&F, as we welcomed a bunch of new faces of incoming 6th graders into our family. It’s a fantastic concept to show genuine hospitality in situations like meeting and welcoming new people  into your group, but it may require stepping out of comfort zones for many of us. Showing hospitality is a great, but it may not come first nature for some of us, and for others, we may not highly prioritize this. What are some things we should keep in mind when showing genuine hospitality towards others?

Abraham, whom (who? whom? real talk, I never know…) God promised to bless the entire world through his lineage (which ultimately culminated in Jesus) - gives us some excellent tips in hospitality in Genesis 18. In this story, Abraham noticed that there were three men standing nearby his home, he “hurried” to meet them, and offered water to clean their feet, something to eat, and refreshment. In Genesis 18:6-8, we can read his hospitable heart:

So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.” Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.

One thing that stand out for me is how Abraham and his wife Sarah offered the best of the best for their guests. Not only did they stop what they were doing that particular day, and went to serious work for their company, they sacrificially gave their greatest. And it’s here we can find a quality tip in showing hospitality towards others, that we should go above and beyond (not bare minimum). Showing hospitality can have a real impact on someone, especially when we go above and beyond and give sacrificially. This is something that our culture, from my perspective, doesn’t value highly - but I have first hand experienced radical hospitality in other countries I have visited. Experiencing that above and beyond show of reception, made a powerful impact on me. We all have the power to make that kind of impact on those around us, the greater the sacrifice we’re willing to make for others, the great impact we can make. 

If you continue reading in Genesis 18:9-15, it becomes more and more apparent that these three men are not your average house guests - but it is actually the LORD (all capitals) and two angels - here is an appearance of Jesus in the Old Testament. Abraham has the opportunity to host an incredible set of guests, and there is a deeper underlying tip of hospitality in this special circumstance: show hospitality as if you’re showing it to Jesus (because you are)! No, you may not actually be hosting or welcoming Jesus Himself, but when we show love to others and make them feel welcomed/special, we are doing it for Jesus. In Matthew 25:31-40, Jesus said that whatever you do for the least of these, you are doing for Him. When we offer food, clothing, and shelter to those who need it - we’re doing that for Jesus. When we show kindness, love, and hospitality to others - it’s as if we are doing it for the Lord, because we are showing others His love, and when we show others the love Jesus has for them, we are also showing Him love. 

Would you consider yourself a hospitable person? Do you go above and beyond to make people feel loved and welcomed? Abraham displayed an excellent show in making others feel loved by giving sacrificially, and reminding us that when we show hospitality to others, we are showing it to Jesus. Let’s put this kind of love and care into practice, and be bold people who are eager to love and make others feel welcomed!

Encouraging Community

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[*Before reading, know that I am from WI and not aquatically strong] My last attempt at surfing started with good intentions and excitement, but was immediately thwarted when I took a gargantuan long board into the Pacific at the exact wrong time and was pummeled by hundreds of waves barreling towards the shore. After getting completely beaten up (and laughed at by on-lookers), I defeatedly muscled my way out of the waters… Many of our faith journeys can look like that picture: starts with excitement and passion, but when the waves of life (nagging temptation, doubts, struggle) come crashing down, we may be tempted to throw in the towel with this whole Jesus thing… What do we do when we face the lows of our faith journey?

Last week we discussed Hebrews 10:19:23 in search of an answer, to which we were reminded of the reason we trusted our faith to Jesus in the first place: hope! When we feel that readiness to quit, remember and hold to the hope that you initially subscribed to! “Hold onto hope” is a pretty expansive concept, what does that mean? Let me give you a few quick examples that we didn’t discuss last week… 

Let’s say you’re battling with a nagging temptation, and ready to say, “shoot, whatever, I’m sick of feeling so guilty all the time, I’m just going for it…” Holding onto hope may look like reading and re-reading and memorizing verses like Romans 8:38 and 1 John 1:9, that promise nothing could separate you from God’s love and you are absolutely forgiven when you ask for it. For those in that situation, trusting in those promises are truly hopeful and powerful. Or let’s say you are experiencing crippling doubt in your faith, holding onto hope may look like an intentional apologetics study - study the reliability of Scripture, historical and scientific accuracies of the Bible, and do your best to seek out what is truth. The hope Jesus provides deserves that type of in-depth study, and I believe ultimate truth will surface with deliberate examinations. Maybe for you it’s not temptation or doubt, but heavy life struggle. Holding onto hope may mean to read, internalize, and wrestle with the concept of God working for good in all situations. This is not an easy venture, but looking at the struggles Jesus faced on your behalf, to study people like Joseph who went through a life of struggle only to be elevated to high power — encouragement can be found. 

As we continue to look at this question, what to do at faith lows, we continue with Hebrews 10:24-25:

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

These early Christians that read this letter, who were experiencing persecution, imprisonment, martyrdom for their faith in Jesus - they needed reassurance Jesus was superior and sufficient, as certainly many of them must’ve considered abandoning and going back to old ways. Beyond holding onto their hope of Jesus, they were told to encourage each other towards love and good deeds. Do life together! And don’t just pat each other on the back to feel warm and fuzzy, but motivate each other towards action. And this mutual encouragement (obviously) requires togetherness! Regular interaction is necessary to encourage one another, and apparently some of the early christians were giving up on meeting together. And why is this important, why should this be a high priority? The author sprinkles on some motivation at the end with “the Day” reference - referring to the Day of the Lord, speaking to the time when Christ returns to make all things new. This is an eternal mindset, to what is most important… 

So how does this passage help us? How do we continue on, endure the whole way in our faith - even through the lows? Surround yourself with an encouraging community. Surrounding yourself with like-spiritual people, encouraging each other towards Jesus, love, and good deeds is essential for faith survival. Do you have a community of people that encourage you towards Jesus? This should be high on life’s priority list, especially in times when your faith is brittle and fading, seek people to talk to, that can encourage and love. 

But one shouldn’t just be surrounded by people who encourage, but also contribute to an encouraging community. That’s how proper community functions - both give and take. There is certainly a responsibility on all of our part to give, love, and encourage. Not to mention, this very much continues to answer our question of continuing on in our own faith - when you help spur others towards Jesus, it will keep you accountable in your own faith. Having an other’s focused faith holds you responsible in your own relationship with Jesus. So ask yourself if you are pushing others towards Jesus? Do you even think to do this, is it a concern of yours? Or are we so consumed with our own personal faith/life that we forget about others… 

Throughout the Christian life, we must hold onto the hope that only Jesus can provide, we must surround ourselves and contribute to an encouraging community. This should be true at all times, but if there are low moments where we’re holding on for dear life - this is a great place to start to re-build, refresh, and start anew.

Unswervingly Hold

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When you decide to devote your life to Jesus for the first time, there’s a raw excitement. Coming to believe that all things were created by Him, recognizing the problem we all know, feel, and observe that lingers in this world is a result of our decided separation from God, and embracing faith in this crazy miracle written about in the Bible (the death and resurrection of Jesus) as a reality that saves souls and provides restoration… That gives optimism, joy, and passion. But life does not just magically get perfect, right? Struggles still come, temptations can pester and give you a hard time, and our natural human selves can unfortunately be fickle. As life goes on, even the most excited faith can be susceptible to temptation to throw in the towel and give up. How do you continue on and endure the whole way in our faith, through the downs? How do you win in your faith when you just want to give up?

The book of Hebrews was written to early Christians. Jesus had lived, died, resurrected and the Christian church had recently begun. These early believers had it pretty tough - their faith in Jesus made them different from society, which caused suspicions and discord, ultimately resulting in persecution and even martyrdom. Leading up to the verse we’re going to look at, Hebrews argues that Jesus is both sufficient and superior - He is greater than all heavenly beings, Moses, the Law and He is exactly enough to save anyone from sin. For a group of believers that must’ve been wavering in their faith and considering giving up to go back to their old ways (after all, life was just easier in the old days of past beliefs), to hear Jesus is enough and better would have been needed reassurance. And it’s here that we too can find helpful reassurance, starting with Hebrews 10:19-21:

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God…

Let's pause for a second here... There’s a lot of language in there that would’ve made total sense for early Christians, but leaves us thinking “What?! Huh?!” A little Old Testament background is needed to understand what’s being communicated here. Once every year, ancient Israel had a single high priest that would enter a place called the Holy of Holies - where the ark of the covenant was located, and where God promised His presence would be. On this day, called the Day of Atonement, the priest would pass through a massive curtain to this holy place, and sprinkle the blood of a sacrificed animal on the mercy seat (lid of the ark) to atone for the sins of Israel - to make things right. But now Hebrews 10:19-21 is saying that Jesus is a new high priest, and by His blood, gives any and everyone access to God’s presence. (Re-read those verses above, makes much more sense now, doesn’t it?)

Let’s continue, Hebrews 10:22-23:

…let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

Now that we all have access to God, the author says to draw near to Him! What used to be a once a year ritual reserved for the single high priest, now accessing the presence of God is available to us all, so draw near to Him. And these early Christians experiencing persecution and wavering in their faith, they are told to unswervingly hold on to hope. Hope is an expectation for something good to happen, but Biblical hope is very different from our world’s perspective on hope. Worldly hope is optimism based on odds, and choosing to see how situations could turn out for the best… Biblical hope is waiting with expectation for God to move and prove His faithfulness. In Israel’s darkest moments, Isaiah hoped in the Lord. In the Psalms, the word “hope” is used over 40 times, almost exclusively in a context of waiting on God. The prophet Hosea lived in a dark, oppressive time, but he chose hope because he believed that God could turn a valley of trouble into a door of hope (Hosea 2:15). God’s past faithfulness motivates hope for the future - in order to look forward in hope, look back to the many times God proved to be faithful. 

What does all of this mean for us? How does this help us continue in our faith when you want to give up? How do we endure the whole way, to win when you want to quit? Unswervingly hold on to the hope of Jesus. If that initial excitement for Jesus wanes, the anxieties of life and dark temptations seemingly become too much, remember the hope you originally put your faith in. In distant and low faith moments, we may look to all the wrong places for answers — but this is a reminder to look to the hope of Jesus. Remember what your eternal hope is in, recall the faithfulness of Jesus in His death and the power of His resurrection to save you and help you through anything we face in the future. This is not an empty optimism that things could potentially get better, but a hopeful expectation based off of the past faithfulness of Jesus. Life is legitimately hard, things can absolutely creep in to distract you, break you, and pull you away from Jesus — that’s why I love the word “unswervingly” — sometimes we may just need to hold on for dear life. But do not forget the hope that Jesus gives — access to an eternal relationship with your Maker, who loves you so personally and intensely.

Do "Good" People Deserve to go to Heaven? (Marc Hughes)

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” - C.S. Lewis

We are all eternal beings. When we leave this life we take a step into eternity. The Bible tells us that when we enter into afterlife, there are two destinations. The first option is spending eternity in the presence and comfort of our Creator; enjoying Him and glorifying Him forever. The second option is spending eternity apart from God; eternally separated and forever removed from the goodness of God. We have given these destinations the title of heaven and hell and it is clear that of the two choices, most everyone would prefer the first. With this being the case, we are left with the question “How do we get to heaven?”

The general consensus among our culture is that good people go to heaven. The world tells us that if you do your best to live a good life, you deserve to go to heaven. The question then becomes “in light of what the Bible says, do 'good' people deserve to go to heaven?”

Before discussing “do good people go to heaven?,” it is important to define whose definition of good you are using. The human definition we use for good is often times far different than God’s standard. We know that no one is perfect, so our definition of good means that if you measure everything you’ve done in your life, in the end you’ve done more good things than bad things. We can also consider ourselves good people by comparing ourselves to others. We can think “I’m not perfect, but I'm definitely a better person than that guy.” This type of thinking can lead us to believe the false narrative that we are good people who deserve to go to heaven.

When we look at this issue in light of what Scripture says, we get a very different picture of what it means to be good. The Bible tells us that in order to spend eternity with God, we need to be sinless. God is Holy and set apart, and in order to be with Him and to exist in the glory of His presence forever, we must be without sin. Jesus’ brother James states in James 2:10:

“For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”

To fail in any area of the law is to be guilty of breaking all of it. It only takes one sin to make you a sinner. This gives us an idea of what God’s standard of good is: perfection. This is an issue for us because as we all know, no one is perfect. So what are we to do? Well, this is the exact problem that Paul addresses in his letter to the Roman Church. Paul explains that the law exists in order to show us how flawed we are. He explains that no one will be made righteous by following the law because it is impossible for us (Romans 3:19-20). One of the law’s main purposes is to show us how hopeless we are to save ourselves. This is the exact place God wants us to be, in a state of admitting we will never be good enough to make it to heaven on our own. It is for this reason that the Gospel is indeed good news. Paul explains this beautifully in Romans 3:21-24:

“But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

The moment we acknowledge that we are not good enough, we realize our need for a savior. Jesus was and always will be the only truly good person to ever live. By laying down His life, He paid the debt we owed because of our sin. Jesus offers to cover the sins of all who come to Him in faith and who admit their need and believe in his power to cover their cost. Jesus has provided the only way to God, and it is only through the forgiveness that He offers that we can have certainty of entrance into heaven.

So to answer our opening question: No, “good” people don’t go to Heaven, forgiven people go to Heaven.

Because God Gives Hope

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A genuine faith in Jesus means a life fully surrendered to Him - He becomes your number one priority in everything you do. Think about that for a second: that’s tall task — to completely give up your life to live for Jesus! The reasons why I should do that better be good! A saving faith takes dedication, and that effort will never be put in if our faith foundation is based off of faith of another or an emotional experience. So, why should we love God? (Part IV)

Peter was one of the first followers of Jesus, and an inner-circle disciple. He was passionate, he loved intensely, and was a natural leader. The night Jesus was arrested gives us a snapshot of Peter: before Jesus was taken, Peter “emphatically” claimed that he would literally die for Jesus. Moments later, after Jesus was arrested, Peter denied he even knew Jesus. Peter utterly betrayed Jesus. But a few days after the death of Jesus, Peter was one of the first to see the resurrected Christ, and that was a game changer. He went from denying Jesus to living his entire life to Him, enduring suffering and persecution, all the way to a horrific death. The resurrection had made a massive impact on Peter.

At the time he wrote 1 Peter, Peter was an established leader of the Christian church, which was experiencing intense persecution. Christians refused to worship the Roman emperor as god (traitors), wouldn’t worship at pagan temples (bad for business), and Christians exposed and rejected immoralities found at pagan temples. People were suspicious of Christians, which eventually led to violence. If anyone needed a good reason to follow and love Jesus, it’s these people who were suffering and dying for their faith. 

In 1 Peter 1:3-5, we find a deeply meaningful reason that God deserves our love and devotion:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in Heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 

Peter, speaking to persecuted Christians, says through the resurrection of Jesus, we’re given new birth. Of all people, Peter truly experienced a complete re-birth transformation after witnessing the resurrection first hand. But this was no disappear/reappear magic trick for no reason — no, the resurrection has the power to completely change and redefine humanity. That’s why the term “born again” is the perfect description - anyone who trusts in the power of it, is completely changed. Once completely blinded by sin, selfishness, darkness - now eyes opened and heart warmed to God’s love. Lives that are now centered on love for others, before love of self. 

Because of the resurrection, we’re given an eternal, unchanging, never-fading hope. Humans have a psychological need for hope to survive. This sets us apart from all other creatures. We have a need for our lives to be structured into a story to fulfill a greater purpose and to have meaning — that’s where we put our hope. We all agree with this on a core level, because once hopes and dreams are taken away — it's absolutely crushing. Whether you put your hope in your abilities, career, or a person — when it’s taken from you, there’s a serious loss of purpose. But Peter says we’re given a hope that we can trust is secured for all eternity — it’s kept and guarded by God Himself. It’s eternal security, salvation, life without tears or pain, no more insecurities or anxieties — in the presence of the One who made you and loves you more than anyone ever could… 

Now, how is this answering our question, why we should love God? Look at the first word of 1 Peter 1:3: “praise.” Because of the resurrection, because of this hope that we’re given: praise God! Adore Him, worship Him, love Him! Why should we love God? Because He gives us hope - a hope that is unchangeable, meaningful, eternal. Hope is foundational to humanity, and everything in this world will only be a let down. Careers can crumble, relationships can be taken away in an instant, and accomplishments will come up hollow. God provides a hope that we can look to and know that it is secure. This is why Christians can find genuine joy, even in the hardest of times, because there is a greater hope to hold on to for the future, that’s rooted in the saving power of the resurrection. This is why Peter used hope of the resurrection to comfort persecuted Christians — times are hard, but we can hope in something far greater… 

But this conversation forces us to look at ourselves and ask the reflective question: what is your true hope? What are you really hoping in? Who are the people in my life that my hope is found in? When people in life fade away and dreams crushed, we’re forced to examine what our true hope is. God offers us hope that is secure, eternal, and cannot be touched by any life circumstance. If and when we accept that, we find a very real and powerful reason to love God and live life for Him fully.

Because God is Faithful

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Purpose changes the game in whatever you do in life. On Sunday, we proved this point by blending up a deluxe-package breakfast into a smoothie (eggs, sausage, pancakes, and syrup), and offering it to a group of middle schoolers. No takers. Once we put $10 on the line, however, several hands reached towards the heavens to volunteer, and one brave 6th grader took down the disgusting breakfast drink (and took home ten bucks). When I asked how many would’ve done it for $100, every hand in the room went up. If you have the right motivation, it’ll change the game, and this certainly applies to having a close relationship with God. To simply say God deserves your love wouldn’t be a very compelling reason to actually go and do it. And if faith is found on fleeting emotion or faith of another, we’ll truly struggle to love God with all that we have. But if we understand the reasons why God deserves our love, it’ll motivate a genuine desire to love Him and make Him your everything. Why should we love God? (Part III)

This week, we find motivating purpose to love God from the book of Deuteronomy, which features Moses chatting with Israel. These people had been enslaved in Egypt, but God had compassion on them and rescued them. It wasn’t long after deliverance that they were complaining about their circumstance and forgotten all that God had done for them. Moses called the next generation of Israel to remain faithful to God, and reminded them of God’s continued faithfulness, despite the rebelliousness of previous generations. In Deuteronomy 7:7-8, Moses said,

The Lord did not set His affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath He swore to your ancestors that He brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

Moses reminds them of what God had done and says that God rescued them from slavery for two big reasons. For one, God rescued them simply because He loved them. It wasn’t because they were a great nation or that they did anything to deserve salvation, He just loved them. God also saved them to keep His promise. In Genesis 12, God promised Abraham that He would bless his family and bless the entire world through his family. God was proving here, and time and time again, that He is good on His promises.

Moses continues… Deut. 7:9,

Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; He is the faithful God, keeping His covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commandments.

Why should we love God? Because He is faithful to keep His promises. God is God and is faithful at keeping His promises. We may struggle with keeping a juicy secret, even if we promised to not spill the beans - but this is not a struggle for God. He is a master promise keeper, despite our own unfaithfulness.  What promises does He have for us, that He is so willing to keep? Here’s three big ones out of the hundreds… 

God promises to love you no matter what. Romans 8:39 says there’s nothing that can separate you from God’s love. Let that sink in. There’s nothing you could do and no circumstance that could ever cause God to not love you. When you feel unlovable, friends leave you by the ditch, like you can do no good and no one likes you — God promises to love you continually. 

A lie that we may sometimes be deceived by is that when you fail over and over and drift super far from God, that He won’t want anything to do with you. If that thought creeps in, trust God’s faithfulness in the promise found in 1 John 1:9 — if you simply confess your sins, God will forgive you. The power of this promise is profound. If someone wronged you once, you’ll forgive them (hopefully). If that person wrongs you another 10 times, you’ll be annoyed, but will hopefully still forgive them. If that person wrongs you 10,000 times, human nature says you’re done! We do things that are uncool in God’s eyes on a daily basis, and daily He is eager to offer grace and extend mercy. 

Another powerful promise, found in Romans 8:28, is that God will work all things for the good of those who love Him. This is nice. It sounds great, we love this one, right? But once you’ve gone through deep struggle or loss, this promise actually becomes a wrestling match — how could that situation possibly be worked out for good?! But if we know and trust in God’s faithfulness, it’s in a promise like this that we’re given hope - that can be power that carries you through the darkest of valleys… 

Let the truth of these promises really sink in… God promises to love you in every situation, every up and down, and He always wants what is best for you! Trusting that God is faithful to keep His promises to you, how could you not respond in love? 

Want to read more of God’s promises? Here’s a quick list of some promises to look up, read, find comfort and direction in: Exodus 14:14, Deuteronomy 31:8, Psalm 23:4, Psalm 37:4, Psalm 50:15, Proverbs 3:5-6,  Isaiah 40:29, Isaiah 41:10, Isaiah 43:2, Matthew 6:31-33, Mark 11:24, John 3:36, John 14:13-16, Romans 10:9-10, Ephesians 3:16-19, Philippians 4:6-7, Philippians 4:19, James 1:5, James 4:7, Revelation 3:5

Because God Loves Us

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Having the right motivation in anything we do, can take something challenging and make it better, easier, and more meaningful because of purpose. In our relationship with God, having the right motivation drastically effects how (and if) we love Him. Jesus says that God must be our number one priority, but if our faith isn’t found in the right place (if we believe because our parents' faith or an emotional experience), then making Him #1 will be impossible. But if we understand the right reasons why God deserves our love, making Him top priority goes from something that is impossible to prioritize, to being our absolute everything. We continue with our series to answer why should we love God? 

First John was a letter written by one of Jesus’ closest companions, John, who witnessed most (if not all) of what Jesus did in His ministry. This letter was to give confidence to Christians 2,000 years ago to the truth of who Jesus is. Why would they need confidence? They were legitimately persecuted (imprisoned, beaten, killed) if they chose to love Jesus. With their lives on the line, you better believe they’d want to know that He is the real deal and worth dying for. Although we may not have our lives on the line, if we're going to genuinely trust our lives to Jesus and truly make Him our number one priority, we're going to need good reason too! 

What does John say about why we should love God? 1 John 4:7-8 says,

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

Loving God and loving others are extremely connected. Just like you can’t have a PB&J without either of those two key ingredients, you cannot separate loving God from loving others. Ultimately, God is the source of all love — in fact, John says God IS love. And love is not just a fuzzy feeling or attraction towards someone, love is both choice and action. If you genuinely love someone, you’ll be moved to listen to them when they need an ear during a tough time, and you show kindness, and generosity, etc. God’s love for us involves choice and action, and there was a particular action that was an ultimate act of love… 

1 John 4:9-10 says,

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

That’s how much God loves you, and what makes people followers of Jesus. God sent His Son so “that we might live,” speaking as if we’re already dead (which I believe is exactly his point). We’ve chosen to be our own masters and are wired to love ourselves above everyone else. Our lives are consumed by the pursuit of our own desires. We choose to separate ourselves from the very God that made us — and according to the Bible — this kills us not only literally physically, but a greater spiritual death. Love is a choice and action, and when we choose selfishness, pride, greed, disrespect towards others, cheating, gossiping — we’re choosing to separate ourselves from a perfectly holy God. Just like how darkness and light cannot co-exist, sin and God’s holiness simply cannot co-exist. This is spiritual death for us. 

But in the spiral of our spiritual death, God sent His Son as an “atoning sacrifice” for our sins. We don’t use those words, what does that mean? Atonement is making a wrong right, it’s restoration of something that is broken. The death of Jesus was a death that we earned, that He took on His innocent shoulders. That death we deserved was to restore our relationship with God, and Jesus’ resurrection provides the power to forgive our sins. 

1 John 4:19, bring us home:

We love because He first loved us.

We didn’t do anything to earn God’s love, we don’t deserve it - He just loves us more than anyone else could. We are driven to love God because of the radical nature of the love he has for us — a love that is personal, fully devoted, sacrificial, forgiving and life-giving. It’s pure grace with no strings attached. 

Why should we love God? We should love God because God loves us! If someone loves you, what is a natural response? Love. You respond with love. We love ourselves so much, that when someone loves us, we love it — and naturally love back. Consider how much God loves you: no one loves you like God loves you. To take in the truth of the depth of this love, there’s no other possible response but to love Him with your heart, soul, and mind. And if Jesus sacrificed His life to save yours, the least we can do is live our lives for Him (a beautiful life revolving around love towards others)! If you trust that God is real, if you accept the immense love he has for you, the only response is to make Him top priority in our lives. 

What does that look like? It’s important to remember that following JESUS is the core of everything you do, not a momentary thing you do. Making Jesus top priority doesn’t mean that you attend church and squeeze in a devo here and there to check that box. It’s everything you do is for God and founded in love. It’s loving those who hurt you, doing your very best at all you do and with integrity, being respectful to everyone, praying throughout your day that the Spirit leads, guides, and protects. It’s in the decisions you make at school, sports, at work that reflect how Jesus lived. Choosing to do what is right when you’re tempted not to, and asking for forgiveness when you mess up. Praising Him when good things happen and looking to Him for peace and understanding when things are rough. It’s spending time with Him not because you have to but because you can’t live without. Ultimately, it’s loving Him more than anything and loving others as best as you can, even when it hurts.

Because God is Truth

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Think of someone you love. Your all-time best friend, parent, or sibling. Someone that makes you feel loved, that provides and cares for you, makes you laugh, and you can talk about anything with them and you’ve gone through all the ups and downs together… Got a person in mind?

As Christians, we are called to love God. In fact, Jesus says that loving God is the number one most important thing we must do in our lives (Matt 22:37:40). And yet, that can be pretty difficult for us to do, right? To put perspective on just how difficult this can be for us, let me ask: do you love God as much as you love that person you were just thinking about two seconds ago? And before quickly answer that, compare time spent with that person vs. God. Compare how well you know that person vs. how well you know God. Who do you go to first with any struggle? I think you get the idea… 

Why can it be so difficult to love God as the number one thing in our lives? Let me suggest a potential reason could be wrong motivations. Without even thinking, we can love God just because our parents love God, because a mentor of ours loves God, or our friends love God. We can love Him based completely on an emotional experience. If our love for Him is built off of an emotional week at camp or someone else’s love of God, that will only lead to a fragile faith. We’re starting a new series called Reasons to Love, to look at the real reasons why we should love God. If we know, understand, and believe in the purpose as to why we should love God, we’ll have real drive and passion to make it happen. We can’t love Him perfectly in these broken bodies, but with the right purpose, loving Him number one won’t be as much of a challenge as it may seem. 

Before we dive in, let me define what I mean when I say we should love God. Love is a big word with a variety of versions. I love my kitties, I love pizza, and I love my wife Jenna — these cannot all mean the same thing. The type of love that God wants from us and the type of love He deserves is: knowing Him intimately by spending time with Him, worshipping and praising Him for who He is and what He does, put Him first above all, to desire Him and His word, and to obey Him. That’s a bit of a tall order. This is not merely loving a slice of pepperoni pizza. If we are going to love God like this, namely making Him number one in our lives, the reasons to love Him better be good, am I right? As we go through this series, I am confident that these reasons why we should give God our love will be absolutely above and beyond worthy of our love. 

For this first week, I want to start by looking at three different ways God has revealed Himself to us. It may seem a tad bit out of left field here, but we’ll circle it back to this question: why should we love God? 

First, God has revealed Himself to us through His creation. Romans 1:20 says,

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

We can look around this beautiful world and see how God has shown Himself to us. He is the creative Designer of all things. Everything did not just come from nothing - He made this universe, this world, and everything in it. If you discovered an I-phone in the middle of a wheat field, based on it’s design and complexity, you could safely assume that it had a maker. Taking a detailed look at life screams of a Creator - studying the eye, DNA, and the intricacies of our own bodies will leave anyone marveled and convinced of an Intelligent Designer (*see more evidence for this in another blog that was posted HERE). 

Second, God has revealed Himself to us through His Word. The Bible treats God’s existence as undeniable, assumed fact. Genesis 1:1 plainly states that God created everything, and in Exodus 3:14 God tells Moses “I AM.”  the Bible doesn’t go into intense detail proving God’s existence, because it assumes we know that to be true. If old Albert Einstein wrote an autobiography (and maybe he did?), he would not have spent time proving he really existed — and neither does God in His autobiography. Throughout the Bible, God is alive, speaks truth, and reveals Himself to His people. (*we did a series not too long ago revealing 10 evidences the Bible is a trustworthy document, which will only strengthen this point — if you missed it, check it out that series, starting HERE). 

Third, God has revealed Himself to us through His Son Jesus. Skeptics of God say, “if God was real, why wouldn’t He just come on down here and prove Himself?” That’s Jesus. John 1:1-5, 14 reveals that God became flesh. The existence of Jesus cannot be argued against, and thousands of people witnessed Him prove Himself to be God — miracles, world-changing teachings, fulfilling OT prophecy, dying and resurrecting. 

God revealed Himself to us through His creation, His Word, and His Son - now what does that have to do with our initial question, why should we love God? We should love God because He is truth. God is real. He is as real as you and I, and He revealed Himself to be very real. But… do you ever (even if subconscious) think of God as myth or fairy tale? Really consider your answer here… When you read from the Bible, are you completely bought in to it’s truth? When you pray, do you truly believe He is listening to your every word and thought? If we aren’t completely convinced that God is the Creator of all things, that He is alive and real — we’ll never make Him a number one priority. We’ll never love Him because maybe we don’t think He’s there in the first place. And doubt is okay - a relationship with God certainly requires faith - it just takes some soul-searching and seeking to see what we truly believe. But if we do soul-search and come to a place that we trust in the truth of God’s reality, then we will believe God’s Word as truth. And when we believe God’s Word is truth, we look inside and see a God that loves us tremendously. Here, we become increasingly convinced that He deserves all the love we possibly have to offer.

Finding Fortress Strength

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We all face seemingly insurmountable struggles in this life - loss of a loved one, disease, mental illness, events that leave you hurt, confused, unable to trust… As a Christian, there’s comfort to be found in the strength of our mighty God — but how? In the face of extremely difficult struggles, how do we rely on God’s strength? 

Famous King David, the greatest non-divine king Israel ever had, experienced his fair share of struggle. Although considered the man after God’s own heart, David’s great sins threw him in spirals of depression and guilt. His son Amnon assaulted his sister Tamar (David’s daughter). His other son Absalom killed Amnon to avenge his sister. Later Absalom was killed by David’s own army. There’s some intense, mountainous struggle that David lived through. In the midst of pain, David wrote Psalm 31, which gives us insight on how we can work through our own difficulties. Psalm 31:1-5 says,

In You, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in Your righteousness. Turn Your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me. Since You are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of Your name lead and guide me. Keep me free from the trap that is set for me, for You are my refuge. Into Your hands I commit my spirit; deliver me, Lord, my faithful God. 

David very literally viewed God as his fortress, his refuge - his place that he could go to receive safety and peace. A place of protection from danger. In these five short verses, David claims God as his shelter/fortress/refuge repeatedly, and I think this is where it starts for us in struggle too… 

How do we rely on God as our strength in times of struggle? Recognize God as your fortress. It’s natural that when we go through struggle to look for help. It may be found in friends or family, maybe music or media (or potentially something even more destructive) to escape pain. Do you view God as a source of help, strength, and comfort? Do you legitimately see Him as a place of safety from danger and calm from storm? 

If recognizing God as your fortress is where it starts, where to next? If you look at these five verses, you see David communicating. This is an honest prayer of David, reaching out to the God that he believed is the only source of strength. If we view God as our stronghold, we must then approach the fortress. You could marvel at a strong castle from afar, but if an army was chasing you down, you’d want to be safely inside that castle - not caught gazing from a distance! David didn’t only recognize God as his refuge, but approached God for help - he said, “hear me, deliver me, come to my rescue, save me!” God wants you to take your burdens to Him, and He promises to strengthen and help (Isaiah 41:10, to name one of many references), will we be faithful in approaching Him, even when it seems hardest? 

Lastly, in verse five, we read David’s words of total surrender and trust — “Into Your hands I commit my spirit.”  A phrase that was echoed multiple times from faithful people who committed their lives to the Lord: prophet Jeremiah, Stephen the first martyr as he was dying, and Jesus Himself on the cross. We have to view God as our fortress, approach Him in prayer, and we have to trust in the fortress strength. Not pray for the sake of praying, but praying with expectation. Trusting that God not only hears your cries for help, but will provide strength you need to continue on. 

Let me just finish by saying: this is easier said than done, and I think those reading this that have been through some real tough stuff can attest. It’s easy when things are good, to believe we would quickly go to God when things get tough - but when the rubber meets the road, what will you do? Make God your strong fortress now, so that when things do go south, you will naturally run to God as your number one source of strength. David had a long-time relationship with the Lord, so when things were tough for him, it was straight to God he went. If you are struggling, know that you are loved and cared for. My prayers are for you.

John's Journey Following Paul's Journey

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I had the amazing opportunity to travel around Turkey for eight days, to follow in the footsteps of Paul’s missionary journeys and visit the seven churches of Revelation. The country is beautiful, the sites were breath-taking, and the trip spiritually enriching. I’d love to share with you where we travelled and some major personal takeaways.

Day 1: Attalia, Perga, Aspendos

…when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. - Acts 14:25-27

Our trip started with a wow-moment, as we explored ancient Perga where Paul and Barnabas spent time spreading the Gospel of Jesus (first picture), and visited Attalia - the harbor they departed from (second pic). Aspendos isn’t necessarily a Biblical site, but a marvelous outdoor theater built in 155AD. 

Day 2: Hierapolis, Laodicea

Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Heirapolis… Colossians 4:12-13

First picture shows the theater at Hierapolis, a sprawling ancient city that was ministered to from one of Paul’s disciples named Epaphras. It’s here that you find these incredible thermal springs that you can walk around and warm up your toes (second pic). Laodicea, the “lukewarm” church of Revelation, was a contextual eye-opener (third pic). You read about how this church was neither hot nor cold (useful, refreshing), but lukewarm in their faith — what was interesting is from Laodicea, you can visibly see hot thermal springs on one side, and snow capped mountains on the other — so this metaphor would have rang loud and clear to them…

Day 3: Aphrodisias, Philadelphia

Although not a Biblical site, Aphrodisias was a cool (and rather complete) Ancient Greek town. This picture is of the stadium that would hold sporting events such as gladiator fights (whoa). We discussed Philadelphia church in Revelation, another contextual enlightener. This ancient city was ravaged by earthquakes, constantly dispersing the people. It also had many leadership changes that led to name changes — you can imagine the lack of identity that would come with that. In Revelation 3, Jesus makes references to the pillar of His temple and how His name will reign — stability and identity that must’ve been anticipated for this particular church.

Day 4: Sardis, Thyatira, Asklepion

Another Ancient Greek town, Sardis offered us the world’s largest ancient synagogue that’s been excavated (rad mosaic floor in picture one). We discussed Thyatira church of Revelation, and were embedded with commonly found theme in most all the churches addressed: warning to not compromise in faith. The final picture here is from Asklepion, an ancient resort/spa town for the sick. The picture shows a man that exudes hospitality — it was cold, I wanted a hot drink but didn’t have cash — he offered me a hot tea anyways. That was very special for me…

Day 5: Pergamum

Pergamum is a city on a hill and was also addressed in Revelation as a church to watch out for comprises in faith. Stunning views. We had a blast exploring this hillside…

Day 6: Ephesus

This was a big day because you could just feel the Biblical significance of the town. Major early Christian church, Paul’s home base for three years, Paul wrote an important letter to this church, apostle John lived and died here (post-Patmos) and likely wrote his Gospel, 1-3 Johns here. A major theme found in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is spiritual warfare because this town had a lot of that - worshipping of false gods, along with practicing magic and sorcery. So Paul combatted that with putting on the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18). Pictured is the most beautiful library I’ve ever seen and me getting a selfie with Medusa. 

Day 7: Priene, Miletus

Priene (first and second pic) was a cool ancient town in the hills that made me feel like I was in the Lord of the Rings. We stumbled in a small home (or what was left of it) that Alexander the Great took up residence (whoa). Miletus (third pic) was a Biblically significant moment in Paul’s ministry and spiritually powerful moment for me, as this is where he gave his farewell legacy speech to the Ephesian elders, before his arrest (Acts 20). 

Day 8: Istanbul (Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Grand Bazaar)

This was just a fun day to cruise around Istanbul and see some amazing sites and buildings. This is getting long though, so if you’re interested in hearing about it, let me know, haha. 

Okay. So, that’s all good and great, but what was the main takeaways? How did this trip change me or work in my life? Good question, let me try and make this brief… The two main things we were following were Paul’s journeys and Revelation church, and I got one major takeaway from each. First, from Paul’s journey. Following his footsteps and reading alone with Scripture, you really got a sense for how much of his life and efforts were dedicated to the Gospel. Culminating in Miletus, and reading his farewell legacy speech, I did a lot of reflection on my own personal legacy. What type of legacy am I living out? I was really encouraged to think about my own life and to be sure I am living out the Gospel like Paul lived out the Gospel… 

From the Revelation churches, we talked about how they did struggle with persecution, but there was a bigger theme at work woven in all the churches: compromising faith. That was a major rebuke Jesus had for them, as they struggled living out their faith in all circumstances. Choosing to not participate in temple, idol, pagan worship. Which really got me reflecting on my own life, and my desire to not compromise my faith. Choosing Jesus in all circumstances, as difficult as that can be in certain situations. 

There’s my trip. It’s very difficult to concisely recap an adventure like that, but hopefully that gave you a little taste for what I was blessed to experience.

Good Works

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We want certainty with things that matter most in life, and considering we’re dead much longer than we’re alive, I think certainty in knowing what happens and where you go should be a top concern.  We’re finishing our series In or Out? - which is all about finding certainty in your salvation. We’ve talked about how you can be certain that if you say and believe Jesus, in His death and resurrection, saves you from your sin, you are certainly saved (Romans 10:9). We’ve discussed how the Bible is clear that if you are saved, you are given the gift of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9, Ephesians 1:13-14) - there’s certainty in knowing the Spirit is working in your life. There’s another major certainty I’d like to explore, to make sure you truly have a genuine relationship with God now and into eternity. 

The book of James is essentially a guide to proper Christian living. This gives us an honest look at what a genuine faith lived out looks like - dispelling the hypocritical all-talk, no-walk type of faith. We gain tremendous insight in James 2:14-17:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

What good is faith with no actions? James seems to think it’s completely non-existent. Faith without good actions and deeds is a dead faith, and if we know that, we reverse this concept to see what a thriving faith looks like. A saving faith that is alive and well will certainly result in action. 

How can you be certain of your salvation, that you’re in a relationship with God, and will ultimately be welcomed into Heaven? If your faith produces good works. We find certainty knowing we have a genuine faith, if we can reflect on our lives and notice the good works. What actions are we referring to? The fruits of the Spirit give an excellent idea of what good living looks like (Galatians 5:19-26). If our lives are dominated by love of God and love of others, joy in all circumstances, living in peace, consistently practicing patiences, etc… If our lives are full of these traits, surely good actions will inevitably result. Charles Spurgeon gives a great summary of good works, when he says they’re:

Works of obedience, works of love, works of faith, and acts of common life.

When we are obeying God’s Word, loving God and the people around us, relying on God’s promises, and glorying Him in all that we do - these are the good works that will be produced from a genuine faith.

So, here’s that time when you reflect on your own life... Is your life overflowing with these good actions, centered on the love of Jesus? Is your life dominated by peace, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control? Or are you living just like the world - in your actions, speech, like someone totally unchanged by Jesus? In Matthew 7:17-20, Jesus says that His followers will be recognized by their actions (by their fruit). 

Let me finish with a clarification of something you may be thinking: are we truly saved by faith alone, or does our salvation require these good works? James says faith without works is dead, so is there an element of earning salvation? Does this conflict with verses like Ephesians 2:8-9 and Romans 10:9, that are ultra clear we are not saved by works, and that all you need to do to be saved is have faith? Short answer: no, they are not contradictory, and they work perfectly together. We don’t do good things to impress God, earn His love, or earn salvation. We do good things because Jesus has completely changed our hearts. If you follow Jesus, you will live more righteous, godly, loving - good works will certainly play out in the life with Jesus in control. Following God’s Word - doing good things and avoiding sin - is not an obligation or religious duty. If you genuinely have Jesus in your life, you will begin to naturally do the unnatural - love your enemy, find joy in misery, strength in difficult circumstances, etc. Simply put: you cannot be saved by good works, but when you are saved, you will produce good works. Works are not the cause of salvation, they are the evidence of a genuine faith. 

There you go, three major certainties in salvation that we’ve covered: 1. say and believe Jesus is Lord, you are saved, 2. if you have the Holy Spirit working in your life, you are saved, 3. if your faith is producing good works, that’s a good indication Jesus has transformed your heart.

Spirit Filled

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Last week we started this series on finding certainty that you are truly saved - in relationship with God now and into an eternity spent with Him. Before gaining certainty of Heaven, we looked at what the Bible says it takes to get there: recognizing our problem of sin, seeing Jesus as the solution, and surrendering your life to Him - say and believe that, you can certainly know you are saved (Romans 10:9). But when you become a Christian, it is absolutely impossible to remain unchanged - radical, beautiful, life-giving changes happen when you accept Jesus into your life. These changes are evidence of a genuine faith, and help confirm you’ve truly been saved (or not). This week, we’ll look at one of two major noticeable changes in becoming a Christian, to gain more certainty of salvation. 

Towards the end of the book of John, Jesus was recorded speaking to His closest followers just before His betrayal and arrest. He shared with His disciples that He would be leaving them. This was concerning for the people who had given the last few years of their lives to follow Him, leaving jobs and families for Jesus. But Jesus promised to give them something special that would comfort them as He physically departed. In John 14:16-17, Jesus tells His followers:

And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you.

He promised an Advocate - a helper, supporter, promoter - to be with and actually live within them. Jesus promised the gift of the Holy Spirit to those who follow Him. He said the world (non-believers) wouldn’t know the Spirit, but all who follow will have His Spirit living inside them. Paul elaborates on this idea of the Spirit filling believers on several occasions, Romans 8:9 and Ephesians 1:13-14 being some clear ones. Respectively, they say: 

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.
When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

Paul’s language is quite clear: if you trust Jesus to save your soul from your sin and to have an eternal relationship with God, you have the Holy Spirit inside you, and if you don’t genuinely accept Jesus, then you don’t have the Spirit. That is a certainty. So, looking at this big question of this whole series: how can you be certain that your relationship with God is real and that you’ll be welcomed to Heaven when your heartbeat stops? If you are Spirit filled. The Bible is clear that if you genuinely trust in Jesus, you are immediately given the gift of the Holy Spirit. Being Spirit filled is evidence of genuine faith.

But, now right away, we come to this next question: how do I truly know I am Spirit filled? There’s no special meter we can read that indicates the needle has moved from empty to Spirit-filled. But there are definite ways to know you’re Spirit filled. If we know why the Spirit is in us and what He does for us, we can look to our lives and reflect to see if He’s working in us (or not). What roles does the Spirit play in our lives? Let’s look…

Comforter & intercessor. We read in Romans 8:26-27 that the Spirit helps us in our weaknesses and literally prays on our behalf. This doesn’t mean that we will always be strong in every circumstance, never feel pain or weakness - but it means that the Spirit can and will provide supernatural strength and comfort to get through things that you couldn’t imagine working through. Personal reflection: have you asked God for comfort in a struggle and found unnatural peace? Have you experienced supernatural comfort in hard times? 

Convicts of sin. Those who have the Spirit inside are convicted of sin (Galatians 5:16-21). Before becoming a Christian, as long as you got away with it, you could sin and feel no remorse. After becoming a Christian, something happens when you disobey God - you feel bad, knots in your stomach, compelled to ask for forgiveness and remove that sin from your life. Personal reflection: do you feel that conviction when you sin? Are you compelled to reach out to God for forgiveness when you struggle with sin? This is the Holy Spirit working in you.

Guides & directs. The Spirit will guide you in life, decisions we make, actions we take, He will guide how we ought to live (John 16:13). Personal reflection: have you felt the Spirit move you? Have you asked God for clarity on a particular decision, and be led a certain direction? Have you ever felt that inner nudge that you should probably step out of your comfort zone to be a friend to someone or to share Jesus with someone? 

Revealer of truth. The truth of the Gospel is pretty crazy to believe, right? That a man lived 2,000 years ago was also God, and performed insane miracles, ultimately dying and raising back to life… Christians believe this to be historical and true, and the Spirit allows us to believe this truth (1 Corinthians 2:14-16). Personal reflection: Do you read God’s Word as ultimate truth? When you reflect on all amazing things Jesus did, do you read that as factually happening? Only the Spirit will reveal this to us as truth.

Sanctifier. The Spirit inside us gives us special qualities that don’t naturally come to us in all circumstances (Galatians 5:22-25). We don’t naturally love our enemies, find joy in hard times, have peace when the world is chaos, and it’s hard to remain faithful when our faith is tested. When you become a Christian, you go through a process of becoming more and more of these things (not perfect right away, but process). Personal reflection: have you seen this process begin, since accepting Jesus? Are you a more loving and patient person, than you were before Jesus? Do you have more joy? You should be, and that’s the work of the Spirit. 

This is a quick snap shot of what the Spirit does in the lives of believers. People who genuinely have a relationship with God are guaranteed the gift of the Holy Spirit. Have you felt the Spirit work in your life? If you have, there’s certainty in your salvation in this truth. If you haven’t, I encourage you to re-evaluate what your relationship with God looks like and if you have surrendered your life to Jesus. Maybe “Christianity” has been a label, but not life change. Look to Jesus to save your soul from sin, say and believe He is Lord of your life, and ask the Spirit to do a work in your heart.

Say and Believe

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The larger the impact of a life’s decision, the more certainty we want. With things like what college you attend, what career path you head into, or who you choose to spend the rest of your life with - you want certainty in your decision. There is a clear front runner of all things that you’d want to be 100% certain of: where you go when your heart stops beating. Quick fact: you’re dead much longer than you are alive, so we’re talking about massive importance! Some may quickly say - “well, I know there is a God and this God loves me, I do my best to live for this God, and try to go to church as much as I can, and I’m a better person than most — so surely, Heaven will be my final destination…” If that is indeed where you are at in your faith journey, Jesus said something in Matthew 7:21-23 that may shake things up:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

People at the pearly gates, specifically said they did all these things for Jesus (not any other gods), and Jesus turned them away saying “I never knew you.” What’s that all about?! This may raise tensions and eyebrows, and get us thinking, “well, shoot, how can I be certain?” Finding certainty in salvation is what this series “In or Out?” is all about. How can find certainty in our relationship with our Heavenly Father, and be confident that we will spend the rest of eternity with Him? 

To answer this question over the course of the next three weeks, we must start with how the Bible defines how to find salvation in the first place. How does God’s Word say we have a relationship with Him and continue that relationship into Heaven? Essentially, what does it mean to be a Christian? If your answer is along the lines of God created me, loves me, I love Him, and try my best to live for Him and be as good of a person as I can be — these are essential things, but is sorely incomplete, and wouldn’t really differentiate you from many of the world religions. 

According to the first few chapters of God’s Word, He created us to be in loving relationship with Him, offering us the gift of free will (if we didn’t have the choice to not love, genuine love couldn’t be a reality). God offered everything that humanity could ever need and blessed them, but commanded to not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil (enter: free will… Genesis 2:16-17). Adam and Eve messed up and disobeyed God by eating from the tree - that’s called sin and it’s something we all do. We are all a bunch of Adams and Eves, as it wouldn’t take much reflection to notice sin in our own lives (Romans 3:23). The consequence of sin results in death - it messes up our relationship with God, and because He is perfectly holy, we are separated from Him. Death leads to an eternal separation from Him (Romans 6:23). Sin is a serious problem we all have and it needed a solution!

In the Old Testament, you read about weird animal sacrifices — because the payment for this criminal act of sin is death (Genesis 2:17, Romans 6:23)— so the death of an animal would in a way temporarily restore relationship with God in an act of repentance, but it was never good enough. We needed a perfect sacrifice to cover all sins for all time, with the power and perfection of God, but also humanity to take on the death we deserve. Jesus is this sacrifice that humanity needed. God sent His Son Jesus (fully God to become fully man as well) to this world to live a perfect life we couldn’t live, die the death we deserve, and rise back to life - demonstrating His power to forgive (John 3:16, Romans 5:1, 5:8). Trusting and accepting the death and resurrection of Jesus as the forgiveness of your sins restores your relationship with God, once and for all. Once you make that decision to trust and follow Jesus, your life is completely changed and you are promised salvation. That is what it means to be a Christian: sin is a problem that separates you from God, Jesus’ death and resurrection is the solution to that problem, and trusting in Him saves your soul and restores your relationship with God. 

So, now that we’ve quickly clarified what God’s Word says it means to be saved, here’s our question again: How can we find absolute certainty that you’re going to Heaven when you die? For this week, I think Paul gives some certainty of salvation in Romans 10:9-12, when he says:

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

That’s it! There is no catch, we’re not missing anything - Paul says that all we need to do is say that Jesus is Lord of our lives and believe that to be true in our hearts and we are saved. There’s not amount of being good that could ever save us, we are made right (justified) by putting full trust in Jesus. I would like to elaborate, a tad, on what it means to both say and believe with a quick sports analogy. If you are in the sports world, you know the difference between a die hard fan of a team and a “fake-me-out” type of fan. The die hard, true fan is one who knows the stats, watches the games, keeps track of wins and losses and injuries, and team drama. The fake fan says they’re a fan, and may even wear the hat because it makes them look cool, but knows absolutely nothing about the team - all talk, no walk. Paul says if you both say and believe, you are saved. You don’t just say you’re a fan of Jesus for the label, you don’t say you’re a fan and not live it out, you don’t just say you’re a fan and you don’t know the stats, the team, etc… What you believe about Jesus means so much to you, you profess it! You live it out, people know you’re a diehard, and that you truly care. And what we’ll see in the next couple of weeks — yes, Paul says we are justified by faith alone — this faith will result in changing your whole life and how you live (stay tuned for life changes in the next couple blogs). 

If you say and believe that Jesus Christ is Lord of your life — meaning you recognize your sins separate you from God, you repent of your sins because you know it’s wrong, and you look to the cross of Jesus as the death you deserve and His resurrection as the forgiveness of your sins, and you surrender your life to Him — if you say and believe that, Paul says you can have certainty that you truly are saved!

Forest Home 2018

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We went on an “Expedition” (that was the theme, wink wink), to Forest Home and saw the greatness of God. With twenty-five amazing students and five awesome leaders, we worshipped God together, dove into His Word, had meaningful conversations late into the midnight hours — all to pursue closeness to JESUS. God’s Spirit was on the move in our hearts, as we asked the tough questions, opened our hearts in all honesty, and in the overwhelming love of Christ we made life-long commitments to trust in Him and show the world His love. David, as we discussed over the weekend, had quite the expedition in his own life - from being a courageous shepherd boy defeating a towering giant, to his brightest kingly moments and his darkest struggles. We not only draw inspiration from his life and dedication to God, but also see a bit of ourselves in his story. 

What expedition are you on with JESUS? Is being a “Christian” just a label you put on yourself with honestly zero impact on your day-to-day? Or do you completely reject Him? Is JESUS someone who you just don’t quite understand who He is and what exactly it is that He did? Or is JESUS someone who you put your eternal trust in, to forgive you of your wrongs and bring you into a beautiful, loving relationship with your Maker?  Whatever part of the journey you’re on in your own life, I encourage you to seek out who JESUS is. At some point in your life, you have to answer to who you believe He is — what will your answer be? This is a question worth exploring because there is a loving God who wants a relationship with you for all of eternity, and JESUS - His life, death, and resurrection - is the only answer.

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The Power of Words

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Have you ever said something and instantly regretted it? You just wish you could rewind reality 5 seconds to take back those words — words that accidentally insulted someone, words that crossed the line in that argument, words about someone not knowing that someone was within earshot… We’ve all been there. Sometimes we use our words carelessly - we can toss them around like they’re insignificant, but maybe we should think to use them more carefully because perhaps they have more impact than we think they do. How much impact do our words have and how should we be using them?

The book of James, written as a sort of handbook to proper Christian living, gives us powerful imagery to show us just how impactful our words really are. James 3:3-6 says,

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

If you’ve ever ridden a horse, you know just how strong of a beast it is - and yet, it can be controlled by the smallest piece of metal in it’s mouth. We’ve all seen cruise ships and how massive they are, and yet they are steered wherever the captain wants to go by a comparatively tiny rudder. Thinking of how devastating a forest fire is, then to think it can all be started by an unattended campfire… This is how James says how impactful our words are - they may seem as little as a bit in a horses mouth, a rudder on a ship, or a tiny spark - but the impact of our words is great. Although our words can seem small and insignificant, whether for good or for bad, they hold tremendous power. 

What kind of impact do our words have? Whether you know it or not, your words have massive impact. Think about how you use your words on a regular basis: with your friends at lunch table, in the comment fields of Instagram, talking with family members, or people you disagree with… Do you say things without realizing the great impact your words can make? If we trust in God’s Word, we believe James when he says just how powerful our tongues are, let’s understand that our words have massive weight to them — whether we think our words or noticed or not, if we think no one will hear, or if we believe no one cares what we have to say to begin with… 

So how do we use these powerful words of ours? Paul, in his letter to the church in Ephesus, provides more guidance on proper Christian living — specifically how we use our speech. Ephesians 4:29 says,

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Unwholesome talk. Our minds likely go straight to — “F” word, “S” word, “A” word, etc… But theres much more to unwholesome talk that just a few select words. Dirty jokes riddled with sexual profanity or jokes that tear others down. Gossiping about others, making others look bad, talking down to your peers. Disrespectful talk to people in authority (parents, teachers, bosses). Language that brings others down and takes life away, Paul says this type of speech is simply not for Christ followers. Our words should be to benefit others and build them up. 

How should we use our impactful words? Make sure your impact is fueled by love. Our followers of the perfectly-loving Jesus Christ, our words should always build one another up, make people feel loved, make others feel respected, and should reflect words that Jesus Himself would say. So, again, think of how you regularly use your words… do they consistently build others up or tear them down? Are your words full of unwholesome talk, or words that reflect the heart of Jesus? The comments you leave on Instagram - are they comments Jesus would type (or that you’d be okay with Him seeing)? I encourage us all: consider the weight of your words and reflect on how you regularly use them. There may need to be some re-adjusting in your word choice, and recognizing that is the first step. Ask God’s Spirit to change our tongues and how we use our words, and give us the wisdom and love to reflect the words of Jesus.

New Year, New You? Nahhh.

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Resolutions are great. Taking strides at improving your life, whether that’s removing a flaw or habit, or progressing in any certain way. But if we think about it, wishful thinking as it may be, we know that turning a calendar over to a new year will certainly not magically change us. In the spirit of resolutions, think through something you’d like to improve in your spiritual life. Is it growth in dedication to Jesus (or caring about Him in the first place), finding clarity in doubts you may have, or perhaps its your self image (wanting to find value in more than what others think of you). What are the things you’d like to improve about yourself? How can we actually resolve these resolutions? How do we change our flaws and bring improvement? How can we actually make positive change once and for all?

The apostle Paul wrote 2 Corinthians as a letter to the church to clarifying things about Jesus. There were many misunderstandings about Jesus back then (as there are today), and one of those misunderstandings was the difference between the Old and New Covenants. The Old Covenant was an agreement between God and Israel, that if they would follow God’s commandments, He would bless and protect them. The Old Covenant essentially required people to please God, which no one can do perfectly - which is precisely it’s purpose! It proved no one can live perfectly to God’s standard, we needed some serious help, and that’s where Jesus comes in with the New Covenant. In Christ’s death and resurrection, we’re promised the free gift of salvation - no longer bound by this extensive law that’s impossible to keep, but freely given grace. This was a difficult concept for some of the early church to grasp, so Paul addresses it. 2 Corinthians 3:13-16:

We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.

Paul masterfully brings up Moses, the veil he wore to cover his glowing face, and the Ten Commandments to make a big point here. Moses and the law is representing the Old Covenant which Paul says is becoming a distraction from what Jesus accomplished. Because of Jesus, big improvements have been made in our spiritual standing, but there was a disguising veil on their hearts that kept the people from fully seeing it. The veil of the Old Covenant was a disguise that kept people from understanding salvation, but only Christ can remove this distraction. Paul doesn’t stop here, he continues in 2 Corinthians 3:17-18:

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Our veil - our misunderstandings, shortcomings, flaws, and distractions - are only removed by the Holy Spirit. Only with the Spirit can we see Christ for who He really is. The Spirit allows us to understand we don’t need to earn God’s acceptance and love, Jesus tears this veil down. And Paul says it is by the Spirit that we can be transformed. By the Spirit, we can be changed from our old ways - from our flaws and weaknesses. The Spirit will clear doubt, make things new, bring resolution and improvement. So how do we make positive change in our own life, once and for all? Surrender to the Spirit. 

Flipping the calendar over won’t do it, we need to rely on the Spirit for transformation, as Paul writes. What are those improvements you’d like to make in your life. Is it how you view yourself? You get down on how people see you, comments or lack of “friends” on social media, how people talk about you, whether or not people think you’re cool… Have you ever tried surrendering that insecurity to the Spirit? Praying “God, I’m feeling low about myself, I don’t want to worry about what others think but I do. Will you please be my security and my confidence?” Paul says that the Holy Spirit causes transformation and will make change - be honest and ask God to! 

Maybe your struggle is with God, living for Him, and understanding what is truth. You see other people worshipping, living for Jesus, praying — and you desire it but don’t feel it and it’s frustrating! Have you tried surrendering that to the Spirit by being honest with God and praying, “God, I want to believe in you, understand you, and trust you — but I just don’t know! If you are listening, Holy Spirit give me understanding!” 

Is your relationship with God where it used to be? Maybe your improvement you’d like to make is a reconnection with Jesus. Things were great middle of last year (or whenever), and at some point it turned for the worse. If you desire to come back to a tight relationship with your Heavenly Father, surrender that to the Spirit and share with Him “I want to be close to you again, Father… I know I’ve been distant, but Spirit motivate me and draw me back to you.”

Whatever your resolution or improvement you’d like to make is, surrender that to the Spirit! Jesus tore the veil down and made a massive improvement to the Old Covenant when He died and rose back to life - the Spirit can and will transform you as well if you ask!

Different Love

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The whole world loves Stars Wars except for me. I don’t hate it, don’t get me wrong, I just don’t love it like most other people do. Since so many people do enjoy it, however, it makes me feel like I should like it. But because I feel as though I’m supposed to love Star Wars, that doesn’t mean that I actually do love Star Wars - it just means I have an odd inner obligation to Star Wars that I can’t fulfill. As Christians, I think we have a similar obligatory feeling at times when it comes to loving everyone. If you read the life of Jesus and hear His teachings, you know that we should love everyone - but on a human level, this can seem impossible. The hardest times to love people, I believe, is usually with people who are different from us. Just think of the people you can’t agree with, you find yourself disgruntled at, and those you look down on - they’re probably different from you on some passionate levels. How do we maintain a loving perspective with those who are different from us and difficult to love? 

Romans was a letter written by the apostle Paul to the church in Rome, including both Jewish and Gentile Christians. These two groups had massive differences to overcome, in order to find any possible genuine love. The Jewish perspective of the non-Jewish Gentiles was that they were heathens, pagans, and didn’t know the One True God - they considered them enemies and called them “dogs.” Ouch! Can you imagine being a Gentile needing to love a Jewish person, knowing they thought of your parents, grandparents, and great grandparents as dogs? Or imagine being Jewish person, raised to believe the Gentiles were your sworn enemies, and now worshipping alongside them. These are painful differences they needed to overcome. With Jew/Gentile differences in mind, read Paul’s unifying words in Romans 15:5-6:

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul encouraging everyone to get along, have the same unified voice in order to bring glory to God. The idea of endurance makes me think of a long, difficult race - but one that is achievable. For these two groups to accept each other despite their differences would prove to be a challenge, but with Jesus, would be something they could actually accomplish. If the Jews loved the Gentiles as Jesus loved the Gentiles, and if Gentiles could love the Jews as Jesus loved the Jews - total acceptance would inevitably result. Paul packages this idea in a nice one liner here in verse 7:

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

Neither the Jews nor the Gentiles had to do anything for Christ to accept them. Jesus laid down His life for all of them, despite their sin and difference from God’s holiness. It’s as if Paul is saying, “you were accepted when you were unacceptable, so what differences could possibly hold you back from accepting others?” Paul says in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” While we were unacceptable to God, Jesus laid down His life for us and accepted us - so we should accept others with this in mind.

How do we maintain a loving perspective with those who are different from us and difficult to love? Remember you were accepted when you were unacceptable. Think about the differences you have with the people you don’t get along with: political, generational, race/nationality, vegan/carnivore, theological differences even, etc. Think about the people who get your blood boiling and the differences you have with them, and now consider: Christ accepted you when you were unacceptable, are these differences worthy to hold you back from loving the people you’re different from? This perspective gives us some gravity to our own situation, and provides so much needed grace we need to love others.

We get another loving perspective from the Gospel of John, which chronicles Jesus’ earthly life and ministry. Let’s read some of Jesus’ final teachings, right after He washed the disciple’s feet and just before He was arrested (ultimately to die). Jesus says in John 13:34-35:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Jesus gives a new command that doesn’t seem so new, right? Love one another - don’t we get that from the Old Testament? What is new about this love is the level of commitment it requires. When Jesus says to love as He loves us, that raises the bar! The love He has for people is totally unmatchable, but one that we should attempt our best to imitate. If we do imitate His unconditional, sacrificial, perfect, caring, responsive, forgiving type of love - then guess what? We’ll stand out. Non-Christians do good things and love people all the time, but this type of love is a stand out, light in the dark, above and beyond type of love for others. Loving others the way Jesus loves, He says, will ultimately show His love to other people. 

Another loving perspective to have with those who are different from us and difficult to love: remember loving others shows them the love of Jesus. This is fairly basic to the Christian faith, but is so important and sadly often under our radar. Think for a moment about the people in your life that helped lead you to a relationship with Jesus. Likely it wasn’t people harshly judging or rebuking your sin and pointing fingers at you. I know for me, I fell in love with Jesus when I experienced unconditional love from people who loved Jesus. This concept of loving others like how Jesus loves in order to show others the love of Jesus: this has eternal implications for the people you interact with on a daily basis. People that need Jesus can experience the love He has for them through YOU! 

Reflect on how you are loving others, especially those who are different from you and difficult to love. Are you showing them the love of Jesus? If not, let’s start anew in efforts to intentionally love people because we were accepted when unacceptable, and we will show others the love Jesus has for them.