Tuesday, May 5, 2015

From Rebel to Disciple

College. It's been a journey to remember and one that passed by so quickly. When I stepped on campus freshman year - a freaked out little high school graduate who had been homeschooled - I was overwhelmed. I went from a house with just my parents and I to a campus of about 3000 students; not exactly a gentle transition. And I had to live with two complete strangers they call "roommates" (mine ended up being pretty ok people to live with). But here I am four years later and I'm almost a college graduate. Friday, May 8, I'll walk across the stage of the FMA at BJU, shake the presidents hand, and get handed a diploma. Four years of work all on one piece of paper. In many ways that piece of paper is more than just a degree, it's a statement. It means that I finished the race, persevered, and earned a BA in Bible by Gods grace. But I'm getting ahead of myself. 

Every college graduate has stories that he could tell of embarrassing things that happened to him (most were freshman year), heartbreaks, victories, and failures. As a Christian, however, I have something better than memories and embarrassing stories; I have a testimony. You see, freshman year I wasn't just immature. I was also very much a rebel. I jumped head long into a 16 month disaster of a relationship with a girl, completely ignoring any kind of relationship with a God I claimed to follow. That's the problem. I said I was living for God, but reality was quite opposite. I was living for myself, idolizing a woman, and completely ignoring God. I said a prayer when I was little but I realized no real change had taken place. On February 11, 2013 my life changed forever. God finally broke my heart of stone. There behind a curtain, my face drenched with tears, I wondered what I was doing with my life. Where was I going? I had poured so much into a woman that I didn't know what the point of my life was. I had so many regrets, and made so many mistakes, I wondered if God could forgive me. The devil was intensely telling me that I was too far gone - that I should just kill myself and rid the world of an unneeded waste of space. The devil is not exactly kind is he? No. But God is. God tugged on my heart and I did what I should have done so many years before that. I cried out to God, quite literally actually, and he had mercy on a poor wicked sinner. I immediately had peace and confidence I was forgiven. Of course I had to get right with quite a few people, but when you're right with God, getting right with people is a lot simpler. 

A lot has happened since then. I got plugged into a church that has stretched me spiritually, I surrounded myself with godly friends, ditched the ones that had been pulling me down, and grew exponentially. Who knew the kid who nearly got kicked out of college in his first semester would be graduating (possibly with honors) getting a bachelors degree, going into the ministry, and oh yea there's a different girl in my life now - one that's here to stay. During my sophomore year, the darkest year of my college career, there was a stranger who sent me a note that she was praying for me, and it was a note that meant more to me than that stranger will ever know. I still have that note and it's one I'll keep as long as I'm on this earth. This person who was just a friend of a friend cared about me more than my "friends." Well I eventually got to be friends with this person about 5 months after my life changed. She became my best friend over that summer, and she became my girlfriend that December. Then a year later on December 21, 2014 that once complete stranger promised to be my wife. Our wedding is 109 days away now (not that anybody is counting) and I'm looking forward to how God will shape and move our lives in the next four years. This fall I'll return to BJU to start working on an M.A. in biblical counseling, and of course marry the love of my life. 

Yes indeed, God changed my life forever about halfway through my college days. From rebel to disciple of Jesus Christ. This chapter of my life is closing. It's had its ups and downs but I wouldn't change a thing. I love my life, I love my God and I love my future wife. What more could I ask for? God has been good to me and I don't deserve any of this, but I wait in anticipation to see what he does in my life in the next few years. For now, I'll watch him work. I don't have a job or a place to live for the fall but that's nothing my God can't handle. He's proven himself repeatedly and I can't wait to start the next chapter of my life as a married graduate student and future minister of the Gospel. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Embracing Grace

Well it's been a while since I have blogged, but last night God laid these words on my heart. After a morning message that gripped  and convicted me on Sunday Morning, a bible study with my girlfriend Sunday afternoon and a time of personal devotions last night, God was impressing upon my heart his amazing grace that I have been taking for granted. These are the words that flowed through my heart and out of my fingers.

My heart feels so free; God asks me to love him not just follow ritual. I have the Holy Spirit, the author of love inside me. He is not pleased with me reading the bible because I feel like I have too but his grace motivates me to love him because no matter how often I fail he loves me and wants to use me and restore fellowship the moment I ask. This vain repetition is not what glorifies my Father. It's not that he restores me fellowship after I "read my daily devotional reading" or "make up for it" but as soon as I ask forgiveness the only one holding that sin over my head is me. (I John 1:9 - If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.") I don't have to make up for it! It's been paid for already. Trying to make up for my own sin is as foolish as taking a Christmas gift back to the store and trying to pay for it! If I'm trying to make up for my own sin, I'm telling God that what Jesus did wasn't enough. That's sin. So I'm throwing sin on top of sin. Trying to make up for my sin through ritual or trying to regain God's approval through ritual is like heaping grease on a hot flame. It's only making it worse! (Hosea 6:6 - "For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice"). 

I fear this is the way many Christians are living their lives. Satan keeps Christians in the valleys by deceiving them into believing that they must atone for their own sins. This is utter foolishness. Don't believe it. We must live by grace. We are no longer under the law. The law taught us right from wrong, but the whole dynamic changed when Christ entered the scene. When Christ hung on that cross and as he screamed in agony "it is finished" everything changed. That is the moment that changed the world forever. Christ lived my life, and your life brother and sister Christian, fulfilling the law perfectly. In the moment that you silently responded to His call to salvation, or you cried out to heaven in tears begging for Christ to welcome you into his family you took on his life and death. If you've been baptized you have probably heard something similar to "buried with him in the likeness of his death, raised to walk in newness of life." What does that mean? It means you fully fulfilled the law, it means that sin you're beating yourself over...the one you are trying to atone for is nailed to that wooden cross, the awe - inspiring, history making cross. By physical appearance it's just two wooden beams, but what was accomplished there turned the world upside down. But what's next? My sins are nailed to the cross, I am righteous and God sees me through the lens of Jesus Christ. Now live by grace. Live by love. Live free because the freedom you have through Christ beckons you to serve him. 

You will be free to pray in confidence knowing that the King of King hears you. Wrap your mind around that for a moment. We are servants and yet the King says "come freely, come often and stay there." The implication is that we never leave the presence of the King of Kings. The King prepares a banquet for his servants in heaven. The King prepares mansions for his servants. The King washes the feet of his servants." You are coming to a king. Large petitions with you bring, for his grace and power are such, none can ever ask too much." When you embrace grace, the power of prayer is the power of the King, and you have the freedom to ask anything, literally anything and because his life is you're life, his desires are you're desires. You have the freedom to pray unselfishly, unreservedly. 

You also have the freedom to read the word of God with a passion, soaking up every word, every syllable. You will thirst for the living water, and as you drink from that water you have every drop you will ever need. God's word is what guides our lives. Every decision we make should be based on biblical principal and when you embrace grace, you will desire to consult what God says on every decision. 

You have the freedom to serve him, knowing that he does not hold your sin against you and he will use you. And you have the freedom to worship. No I'm not talking Sunday morning. I'm talking lifestyle. You have the freedom to live a life of worship, because even if you stumble Gods grace allows you to get right back up. (Proverbs 24:16 - "for the righteous falls seven times and rises again"). Worship is not an event it's a lifestyle, one that you will live if you are living by grace. My friends If you truly embrace the mystery of the cross and the mystery that is atoning grace, you won't be able to contain your joy. 

Experience grace. Experience forgiveness. Experience freedom. Experience Love. Experience joy. Experience Christ.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Meeting God on the Mountain

    This summer I had the unique and awesome privilege to minister at Red Cliff Bible Camp in the gorgeous mountains of Wyoming. I grew a lot in my faith over the summer as I saw God working in awesome ways, saving the lost, healing hurting hearts, answering impossible prayers, and the list goes on. There is nothing my God cannot do. We sang a song this summer that had the lyrics "God can do anything but fail," and I really saw the reality of that in my time as a counselor. I'm a flawed tool, but because of God's grace, he chose to use me in ways I would have never thought possible. So here are, in no particular order, 16 things I learned as I participated in God's harvest at Red Cliff this summer.

1. Edify, don't tear down - Ephesians 4:29 reads, "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers." No where in the bible do we read that it is ok to make fun of each other and make sarcastic comments as long as the other person won't get offended. I learned this lesson twice in the same weekend. I said something to two different people that offended them that I just said in jest. Hurting people's feelings is not ok. It's good to joke around and have fun, but limit your humor at others' expense. In fact if you can eliminate it all together - that's even better!

2. Look forward, not backward. - We all have regrets from the past, we all have things we wish we would have done differently. Sometimes those are situations in which we messed up, sometimes they are situations in which others hurt us and we are bitter and unforgiving. The past can teach us many lessons, but dwelling on it can hurt us spiritually. Don't waste time dwelling on things you cannot change. Instead, "press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:14)"

3. Guard the way you use technology. It can be a threat or a tool. - This is something I actually picked up during a sermon one evening. In the back of my head I know this truth, but I often don't think about it. Social media, television, phones, all technology can get out of control if we don't watch the way we use it. Re-evaluate how you are using your technology. Do you control it or does it control you? I just spent an entire summer in the mountains. The only available technology I had was a phone and internet usage - both of which I can only access Sun - Monday, and ya know, I did just fine without it the rest of the time. 

4. Don't let sewage into your house. - So I'm guessing most of you would just love to have that sewage from the waste company fill your house am I right?  No of course you don't want to fill your house with garbage, but some of us do this all the time with our technology. Music, television, video games, all of these things will influence the way we think and what we spend our time thinking about. My mom said something casually to me that hit me a lot harder than she intended. We were talking about something from scripture though I don't remember exactly what it was, but it probably had something to do with all the lost souls that need Jesus. She simply said "So why are you sitting here watching this movie?" Could I give an honest answer that was biblical? Could I have said "This uplifts me?" No I could not. I clearly need to have a purpose for watching what I watch - if I just say "this is entertaining," how low will I drop my standards before my head is filled with filth? So what is it that you fill your mind with? Is it wholesome, or is it damaging? Seriously evaluate the shows you watch and the music you listen too. You may just realize your house is actually a garbage dump and it's about time you clean it up. 

5. Don't just discover your weaknesses; use the tools God gave you to fix them. - It would be pretty silly if I had a loose board in my home, and I had a hammer and nail to fix it and decided just to let it go. Some of us know our weaknesses and we utterly fail to use what God gives us to fix them. When God shows you a weakness, don't just shove it to the side and say "I'll fix it later." Fix it now. Pray about your weaknesses and do what's necessary to make those weaknesses strengths .

6. Don't be a respecter of persons - I was reading in the book of Acts one morning in my devotions and read a passage that talked about the reach of the Gospel. The Bible describes it as open to the "Jew" and the "Greek." There is a lot of theological detail behind that description that you can read in my post, "The Power of the Gospel," but for my purposes here it suffices to say that the Gospel is open to everyone. God favors no person over another when it comes to the gift of the Gospel. Often times when I think about witnessing to someone I think, "they look busy," or "they are probably a Christian" or even "I don't think that person would care about the Gospel." So I don't bother trying. Now I don't have mind reading powers, so the way I see it, trying to figure out how open a person will be to listening to me is not my job. The Bible gives me my command in Matthew 28:19-20, the Great Commission. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. My calling is to boldly share the Gospel and let God water the seeds that I'm planting as he feels best. (I Corinthians 3:6)

7. God answers prayer - Go ask your king - As a staff we memorized Psalm 5 together and I would recommend memorizing it - its not as hared as it seems. We took our summer theme (Go ask your King) from verse 2, "
Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King, and my God: for unto thee will I pray.
The way David prays here gives me the chills because it's a truly awesome idea. David says that he is praying to a King!! The God we are praying to is the King of the universe, how awesome is that! And the Bible contains promises about God answering prayers. Luke 11:9-10 says, "And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened." I'm praying to the creator King of the universe and he wants to answer me. Once again, I cannot express in words what an amazing privilege and blessing that is. As a staff we saw God answer prayers specifically again and again. I lost of count of how many answers to prayer we had. We had campers who were not saved, and we would pray they would hear the Gospel and accept Christ as their Lord and Savior. We had God answer prayer for certain weather, and so many other requests! A simple two word statement to remember my friends: Prayer Works.

8. God uses words and circumstances that you don' t even realize he is using. - I found that God was working behind the scenes a lot. God was working 24/7 even if we didn't always see it right away, and he used things I was doing that I never thought twice about. Simple example. During staff training we were talking about the definition of wisdom. The definition I stated was "Wisdom is resisting fleshly lusts." I didn't say that definition intending to change anyone else's opinion and I never thought about how God might use it. Two or three weeks later I was having a conversation with a fellow staff member and great friend, and he mentioned that statement to me and told me he had written it down and it had changed his perspective in some ways. My friends, stay faithful and keep praying because God IS working, even if you don't see the fruits of your labor right away, and in some cases you won't see how God is working on this side of heaven, but trust Him, he is always active.

9.God protects his children - God is always watching over us as his children and he protects us not only from spiritual danger but also physical dangers as well. God protected our camp this year from wildfires, wildlife and other potential dangers but aside from the general he protected us specifically in multiple situations. Just to give a simple example, the last week of camp we had a really bad storm that knocked down a few trees. All the trees that snapped fell in the same direction except for one specific tree that fell in a different direction. Maybe that doesn't sound all that important but here's why it shows God's protection - had that specific tree fell in the same direction all the others did, it would have damaged camp property - completely destroying a tent used for some old fashioned cooking. The tent would have been gone and a lot of the equipment damaged. As it is, God pushed it the other way to protect us. What's more is we had campers running around outside trying to get in buildings, and none of them got hurt either. In that situation and others, God showed that his eyes are always on his children, watching over and protecting them.

10. God's grace is sufficient - II Corinthians 12:9, undoubtedly a familiar verse to most Christians, says, "And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me". This verse has been shown to be true in my life over and over again. As a counselor, mental and physical strength, and at times, patience, can be drained quickly and you're left with much more work to do and you just think "how am I going to get through this day, let alone the rest of the week." That's where this verse comes in. I found myself often praying to God for grace and strength and you know what? He always gave it. He never failed, not once. He never does. A specific example; I had to get a tetanus which left me drained the day I had it and weak the next day too. I don't take shots well. The next day I had to lead a hike up to the cliffs which is not a horrible hike, but it's challenging if you're not used to it. I had some serious doubts that I would make it. I prayed for strength and grace from God and he provided! I gave you a two word statement to remember, so here is another short statement, this time three words. God never fails. Live your life as if that's true (it is) and watch God work.

11. The greatest joy in following Jesus is seeing others come to him. - Being used by God is an honor, and when he uses you to lead someone to himself, its an experience and joy like nothing else in this life I've ever felt. I had the joy of talking to three kids about salvation, and seeing another one of my campers come to Christ through another counselor there. The first time, I was praying and crying tears of joy with my camper as he prayed and asked Christ to come into his heart. The second time I had unspeakable joy inside and didn't even know what to say other than praise God. To be used twice left me speechless. The third camper that talked to the other counselor came to me and told me his decision, and he was crying tears of joy. I just hugged him and said I was thrilled to have him in my family. The fourth time, the kid who accepted Christ was literally jumping up and down for joy and dancing and I was walking beside him thinking "God you are amazing and I'm thrilled you can use me." The more people you see saved, the more your burden will increase. Another three word statement for you. Share the Gospel. 

12. We need to be careful with "the sinner's prayer." The bible says that we should not fear, but I have a legitimate concern here. I am concerned there are many "saved" Christians in the world - those that repeated a prayer they didn't believe or understand and they never felt the joy of Christ in their lives. These are people that could still be going to hell. Three of my campers, and at least one speaker shared they had repeated a prayer that they didn't understand or had said a prayer just because they felt people wanted them too. Praise God those campers got saved at Red Cliff. We seriously need to watch how much we emphasize the prayer. It is way overemphasized. It's not the words that save you but a genuine belief in Christ. Romans 10:10 says, "For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." In no circumstance should you have someone read a piece of paper or repeat a prayer after you that you say. Always always always have someone explain the Gospel in their own words, and let them pray in their own words. In a true conversion, the Holy Spirit will guide the person what to say and believe. But we need to stop giving people false hope and telling them "just repeat these words and you'll be saved," because that it is not the way it works. 

13. Ministry never stops. - We tend to think of ministry in terms of camps, churches, nursing home visits and other similar activities. Ministry isn't a just a church thing, or just a Sunday thing, it's a never ending way of life. During the week I served God by counseling campers and in general, focusing my attention on the work God had assigned me too. The campers went home on Saturday morning and we didn't have more until Monday afternoon. Does that mean ministry paused for the weekend? Nope. As a staff we recounted God's goodness - that's ministry, we had fun and laughed together - that's ministry, we had Bible studies - that's ministry. If you live your life with a constant focus on God, you will always be ministering to other people just by your testimony. The truth is in Matthew 18:20 - "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."

14. "The camper you're east attracted to is the camper who needs you the most." (Phil Tubbs, founder of RCBC) - Let's face it. In life there will always be people that are not fun to be around. They frustrate you, they say unkind words, they are disrespectful, whatever the case may be. Camp ministry is no different. During any given week there was always a camper or two that arrived and I immediately wanted to send them back home. OK, not really, but there was always a camper or two that was quiet, or disrespectful and disobedient. These are the types of campers, that when you have other cooperative campers, tend to be ignored. I found however that the camper I was least attracted to was the one I invested in the most, was the one that changed most, and the one that I grew attached to, and was harder to say goodbye to. Why is this? It's because God brought every camper to me that he wanted me to reach, even the tough ones. And when you are loving the campers Biblically, investing everything you have in discipling and mentoring them, you tend to grow attached.  I also found that the camper I was least attracted too, got saved or made a major decision in their life by the end of the week. Next time you are around someone who is unpleasant to be around, show God's love. Even a kind word could go a long way. 

 15. God uses flawed tools. - No one is perfect, that's simple to see. Yet even so we compare ourselves and think God cant use us because we have too many problems or we have sinned too badly. God uses flawed tools because that's all that he has. My friend shared this in a devotional one evening. Moses was a murderer - God forgave him and used him to lead his people out of Egypt. David was an adulterer - he was called a man after God's own heart. Paul killed Christians before he was converted - he was used by God to bring thousands to Christ. Rahab was a prostitute - she was instrumental in Israel's taking the promised land. Read through the Bible  you will find many more examples. God uses flawed tools. He doesn't call the qualified, he qualifies the called. You're without excuse. Open you're heart to God and he will use you in great ways. 

16. If a camper does not make a decision durng the week, don't worry. - God promises his word will not return void (Isaiah 55:11 "So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it."). Sometimes campers finish the week not having made any decisions, and sometimes you know they have problems in their life that need to change. This is not a huge concern if we rest in Christ and his promise that his Word planted will grow. I had a camper that went home with a serious sin problem that he had not repented of at camp. Admittedly I was disappointed. I continued to pray for him however and received word that he had gotten his sin right with God and his parents. Praise God his Word was working! Again we may never see the results, but I trust in God's promise that no work we do for him is in vain. 

This summer was amazing, and God really made me grow in my walk with him a lot. My life has not been the same since camp. Now that I'm home I feel restless. I want to continue to be involved in a full time ministry, however for now I must finish my senior year of college, and then Lord willing, head back to Wyoming and continue to do his work. My friends, ministry is a joy. We are not created for this world, but we are created to bring others to Christ, and that is what we must do. 


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Hope in The Face of Tragedy

       When I was in high school two of my friends passed away within 3 months of each other. To us here on earth it was a tough situation to handle. Why would God take away two of our churches budding college students? Not only were they young but there were two of the most solid guys that I can remember that passed through our youth group. They were both on fire for God, and as far as I can remember, not an unkind words was ever heard from their mouths. That was about 3 years ago. Fast forward to yesterday. A good friend of mine, Adam Berganza passed away from cancer at the age of 23. We all started to realize his death could be coming, but we hoped and prayed that the Lord would take away his cancer anyway. God chose, instead to bring his child home to heaven. For any of you who knew him that are reading this, know that I am writing with the same heavy heart that you have. So I say with you I have to wonder why God would take someone so young, and so loved. Why would God allow someone so young to die? I don't really know the specific answer to each young death we face, and particularly this one, but I know some principles from the Bible we should look for as we each individually mourn the death of our friend, brother, son, or whatever he may be to you. If you are reading this because you are facing a different tragedy in your life, know this, these principles apply to your situation too. 
     1. Everything God does is for our good. Romans 8:28 - "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." We have all been called out of a world of sin to love and to serve God and everything that happens, even what we would consider to be something bad, such as the death of a loved one, is bringing about for us eternal glory. The good news for my friend is that he is now in heaven eternally living with Jesus. The good news for those of us here on earth is that we don't have to watch him suffer any more. The last time I saw my friend he did not even look like himself anymore. The cancer had taken a fierce hold of his body. While I am saddened at his passing, I am glad he no longer has to suffer at the hands of a disease that can no longer effect his heavenly body.

       2. Trials are meant to strengthen our faith and we are to even take joy in them. James 1:2-3 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." Nothing, no trial or pain can reach us without first being authored by our heavenly father who according to I John 4:8 is love.  So we know that all trials that we face are put in place by a God of love. But if he is love then why would he allow trials, especially young deaths? According to the Bible it is to strengthen our faith so we are complete, lacking in nothing. It is meant for us to say "I don't know what you are doing God, but I trust you." Then, since we know that God allowed the trial to happen, and we know our faith is being tested, we should take joy in it. Joy in death? That doesn't make sense. From human perspective no, but we know something. Adam is in heaven at this very moment, praising Jesus. That in itself should give us Joy. Given the choice, would you bring him back to a world full of physical and emotional turmoil, or would you rather he be in heaven with his Heavenly Father who loves him more than we could ever imagine?

       3. Trials are meant to  make us more like Jesus. Hebrews 4:15 - "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin." What is the best way to become more like somebody else, to become more intimately intertwined in you're relationship with them? Its to go through the same experiences as they did. Jesus experienced suffering and pain beyond what we could imagine. When Jesus came to earth he experienced human emotions and characteristics - fatigue, stress, hunger, and sorrow. His own friend Lazarus died, and felt sorrow. He grieved a long with Mary and Martha and those that were with him. He knew what it was like to mourn someone's death. He knew what it was like to morn alongside with his friends (those who didn't realize that Jesus was about to raise Lazarus from the dead). He knew what it was like to have his father turn his back on him. He knew what it was like to experience physical pain. So what does this have to do with the verse? We are tempted when things like this happen to lose faith in Christ, to turn our back on him. And yet he knows how we feel. When Jesus was facing death on the cross do you think it was a temptation for him to abandon ship? Do you think he was tempted to wonder if his Father loved him? I would say that for someone who was sweating drops of blood while he was passionately praying for his Father to take the cup of death away from him, he probably would have rather his Father provide another way for our sin to be pardoned. Yet whatever he was thinking as the mob stole him away to be tortured and crucified, he was resigned to follow his Father's will. So must we realize that as tempting as it is to question God and lose our trust in him, we must be resigned to realizing Adam's death and every trial we face is God's will and it brings us intimately closer with Jesus Christ, the lover of our souls.

       4. Your tears are seen by Jesus and you will be comforted. Matthew 5:4 -"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." Sometimes we feel like maybe crying is a weakness or that God expects us to "be strong" and to just trust him. Don't get me wrong, we should trust him. But also, we should understand that God expects us to mourn and he promises us that we will experience his comfort. If you have embraced someone and cried on their shoulder, you know what its like to have those arms around  you. You know the comfort that a hug brings. God embraces us. He embraces you now. Run to him accept that embrace. He desires us to be so intimate with him, that we can run to and cry on his shoulder. And consider this; God works through human hands. If your brother or sister in Christ offers to pray with you, cry with you or embrace you, that's God providing comfort to you. We are all ambassadors for Christ. It is proper that we cry with and comfort one another.

       5. Our response to death and trial should be one of worship. Probably the hardest aspect of our response to God in times of tragedy and death is worship. Yet this is exactly the example he gives us in David,  a man he called "after his own heart.  In 2 Samuel 12 David's child becomes sick because God was punishing him for his sin. Don't get me wrong here. I'm not insinuating that Adam's death had to do with God punishing him or any of us because of our sin. My point for bringing up this passage is simply this: David knew his child's death was coming yet he fervently prayed that God would in his mercy spare his son. The comparison here is that our situation is much the same. Adam was nearing death, and we all fervently prayed that God would spare him. That God would heal him of his cancer. God felt it better to relieve Adam of his suffering and pain. When David's son died, his response is somewhat surprising.

2 Samuel 12:20-23. Then David arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes. And he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. He then went to his own house. And when he asked, they set food before him, and he ate. 21 Then his servants said to him, “What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.” 22 He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ 23 But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.

 I underlined the key aspects of this verse. First of all David worshiped God. David worshiped God for allowing his son to die. In his case it because David had been told his son would die as punishment for David's sin and he knew God was being just. In our case we worship God because we know that Adam knows joy unspeakable in heaven now. That last phrase though is the most important thing we need to remember.

        6. "I shall go to him but he will not return to me." This phrase  holds a promise. We cannot return Adam to us. We can't bring him back from the dead like Jesus did with Lazarus. But we shall go to him. We will see Adam again. But this time Adam will look amazing. This time he will have a restored, strong, fully healthy heavenly body. And so will we. This time none of us will be suffering, none of us will be crying. We will all be rejoicing on streets of gold with God and the heavenly hosts of Angels. Wow. What a promise. Such hope we have! God taking Adam from us was ultimately an act of Love. God chose to relieve him of his suffering and take him to a place where he has joy and peace unspeakable. So take this comfort brothers and sisters. Take this promise and let it fill you with peace, comfort and Joy. "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:6-7)."

  I would like to say one final thing. Assuredly not every one who knew Adam is a born again believer in Christ. If you are reading this and you have this hope, please share it with those who don't. Take an opportunity to be a shining testimony for Christ by showing them that while you mourn now, you have an amazing and glorious hope and because of Christ, even in the midst of tragedy, you can have joy, drawing close to your loving heavenly Father. May all who read this have peace and comfort in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Friday, May 23, 2014

We Are Not Alone: Loved and Protected

       So recently I have felt somewhat distant from God. My personal devos were not deep, and I felt like I was only going through the motions. As David experiences in Psalm 63:1, I was in a dry land with no water. This morning I went to breakfast with a good friend, and we talked about God's goodness in our lives, the summer ministries God has called us too (Christian Youth Camps) and personal lessons God was showing us. I felt much encouraged after that; as Proverbs 27:17 says, I had been sharpened. Rejuvenated spiritually, I went home and spent an hour in prayer and Bible reading. It's interesting that God always shows me in his Word exactly what I need to hear. I opened to II Samuel 17-18. Now If I were to name a book of the Bible I would go to for encouragement, I would have turned to Philippians, Galatians or Romans not II Samuel. The truth is though, the entire Bible is meant to teach, rebuke, comfort and encourage us.In this Old Testament passage I find not only what my current problem is but also the solution.
        In this passage Absalom, David's son, is bent on destroying his father. In this case David is a righteous man being persecuted by an evil person, his own son. The first verse to catch my eye is 17:2, where Absalom is given counsel to "come upon (David) when he is weary and discouraged." This is exactly what Satan does. According to I Peter 5:8, "Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." It doesn't take an expert in Zoology to know that the weaker prey is, the easier the prey is to overcome. I am the devil's "prey" and he seeks for weak moments to attack - he's been doing exactly that in recent days. I am weary and tired, and I try to defend myself. A slow moving person being stalked by a lion - on my own I haven't got a chance. So I read further on in the passage.

       Fast forward to chapter 18. David has been warned by a friend that he has that has been working as somewhat of a spy - befriending Absalom so that he could tell David exactly what his son was up too. He's been warned that his son is coming after David to destroy him so that he will have no competition for the throne of Israel. David musters himself and his army for battle. David has been on the run, he is tired, weary and should not be going out to battle. Fortunately, his military leaders know this. This is the counsel his men give:  “You shall not go out. For if we flee, they will not care about us. If half of us die, they will not care about us. But you are worth ten thousand of us. Therefore it is better that you send us help from the city. (II Samuel 18:3).” So David has someone coming after him, but fortunately he doesn't have to fight this battle. His army will do it for him. I take encouragement in this. When I'm down and weary I don't have to fight my own battles. How do I know this? For He will give His angels charge concerning you, To guard you in all your ways. (Psalm 91:11). I have an army of angels protecting me. The best illustration is Daniel 6:21-22. Daniel is facing the hungry faces of ravenous lions and what happens? "My God sent His angel and shut the lion' mouths and they have not harmed me." Yea the angels shut the mouth of the lions. Lions < angels. Angels > Devil. Christ has power over the Devil. I am not alone. Four words that are extremely comforting. But there was a second lesson in this passage God wanted me to know.

       Absalom is eventually killed. God defeated David's enemy. Now you would think David would be overjoyed at his enemies death, but no matter what Absalom had done, he was still David's son and David still loved and cherished him. David's response to his son's death is found in II Samuel 18:33 - “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” David said that he would have rather have died in his son's place - That's how deeply he loved his son. God is the same way; no matter what we have done to offend him, no matter how bad we sin, no matter how disobedient we are and how far we stray he still loves us deeply. He actually did die for us. Jesus died so that I could live. My heavenly Father has an immeasurable love for his precious children.

      It's quite an amazing thought really. That we have an army that fights our battles, a God that loves us so much that he sent his son to die for us. A God that sends angels to shut the mouths of lions, and a God who protects us from the devil when we are weary and discouraged. My friends, we must remember that while life may get hard, we may fall into the valley and experience desert - like droughts, and we may feel like we are too tired to go on but we are not alone and we never will be. We are loved and protected by an Almighty Father.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Power of the Gospel

What's your purpose in life? What are your goals? You may be in college and your goal is to achieve a good GPA, or maybe you're just looking for that dream job, a spouse a nice car? These aren't bad goals at all but there is a goal not listed here that should be our primary goal in life. The Bible defines this goal in Mark 16:15 - And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation." There you go, that should be your main goal in life - share the gospel every your day every opportunity that you have. You say that's crazy. No that's biblical.  Is that verse not compelling enough for you to want to reach others for the gospel? If not maybe this will.

Romans 1:16-17. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. AS it is written, the righteous shall live faith.” 

Here, Paul, the author of Romans is bringing the gospel message to people who had not yet had apostolic teaching. It’s the theme of the book of Romans. It comes in the first chapter right after Paul expresses his love for the people he addresses. The book of Romans may be known as the gospel epistle. This should give us more than enough motivation to witness to the lost all around us. We are given here three reasons/motivations for why we should be confident in witnessing.

First, Christians must witness with confidence because the gospel has the Power of God to save. Many Christians today, even some of you in this reading this have this fear of witnessing that can stem from any number of reasons, but Paul clearly states there is simply no reason to be shy or timid about witnessing. Paul emphasizes this by saying “I am not ashamed, I am not ashamed. Do you hear that confidence? Let me say it one more time. I. am.  Not. Ashamed. This word ashamed has a negative connotation to it: it’s defined as being convicted that something is wrong. So obviously Paul is confident that he is preaching truth. My favorite definition of ashamed is as follows; Ashamed: unwilling or restrained because of fear of shame ridicule, or disapproval. So Paul says “I am not ashamed of the repercussions of sharing this gospel with you. “I can handle criticism, being looked as weird, persecution, and even death, for the gospel” Ladies and gentleman, can you say that about yourself? Paul said he was not ashamed! But what was his motivation? His motivation was the nature of the gospel: that it has the power of God to save. What do you think when you hear power? For some of you guys, you’re idea of power may be a defensive lineman just destroying the running back, tackling him with massive force that you just makes your wives or girlfriends cringe. What about storm, a hurricane, something that can’t be stopped? Most of you are familiar with hurricane Katrina that hit land a few years ago, completely devastating some coastal and rural areas. The power that Paul is talking about is a completely different kind of power and it’s a greater power. It’s a power like no one, nothing in nature can produce, its miraculous power. The gospel of Jesus Christ has a unique, unimaginable power fellow believers. We are talking about the Power of the God who made the heavens and earth with a breath! You’ve all heard “And God said let there be light, and there was light” but how many of you actually let that sink in; that he spoke and it came to be! II Timothy 3:16 informs us that all scripture is God breathed; he breathed out the Word and it has his power! Isaiah 55:11 – the word of God will never return void. This isn’t a little rains storm that you can avoid, this is an oncoming category 5 hurricane, something that in its path, its going to effect you one way or another! Whether the gospel shatters what you believe, as a hurricane would take down the foundation of a house, or if it’s just a little cleanup of litter, or standing water…in other words if the Gospel of Jesus Christ merely makes you think…it has an effect. And what does the gospel have the power to do… SAVE!!! What does it save you from? Death; a spiritual death. Romans 1:18, saysFor the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”  Romans 6:23 states “the wages of sin is death;”(it saves you from death as this verse continues), “but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord!” We are saved from damnation. PS. 9:17…”the wicked shall be turned into hell.” I am saved and You're saved if you believe in the Scripture. This so affected Paul that he says “I'm not intimidated by men, I am not fearful of ridicule, because the gospel I preach is backed by the power of God, and will save you from eternal damnation!! By the way a side note; that’s love. Jesus tells us to love our neighbor, and what better way to show love then to preach a gospel that has the power to snatch you from the grip of hell into the loving arms of Jesus Christ. When you witness and you don’t have the confidence that you can be an effective witness for Christ, remember you are preaching a powerful word, not your word but God’s. Take up the attitude of Paul and say, I don’t care if I'm criticized, I don’t care if I am looked at as weird, if I am made an outcast,I will witness using the Word that will effect everyone who hears it. This summer I had the opportunity to work at an amazon warehouse and I worked with many unbelievers. I decided to ask God to enable me to be unashamedly vocal about my faith; and he granted me that privilege. On one occasion a coworker just looked me and said “you’re such a Jesus freak.” Without missing a beat, I said yes I am, I love Jesus." That is one coworker that never liked me, but he was clearly effected by my testimony, and he knew there was something different about me. That is a very mild example of ridicule because of sharing the gospel unashamedly. We can’t be afraid of being looked at as Jesus freaks. We can’t be afraid of anything that might occur to us while witnessing. The Gospel that we preach has the power to save, and we cannot keep that to ourselves

So must witness unashamedly because we know the gospel has the power to save, but there are two parts to every conversation; we share the gospel but with whom? Who can legitimately receive the gospel?  The answer is, everyone
  Christians must witness to everyone because the gospel is a gift that is open to anyone who trusts in it. Romans 1:16 continues: "to everyone who believes; to the Jew first and also to the Greek." Jewish people are easy enough to define; the Jews were God’s chosen people, and there are still many practicing Jews today. The Greeks, also translated gentile, were defined as anyone who was not Jewish. So this encompasses every living soul. So who is left out? Who are we not supposed to witness too? That’s a group that doesn’t exist. We are all wicked sinners that deserve the wrath of God but the gift of the gospel is open to ALL who believe because of what His Son did for them. Your race, your background, none of that matters; if you fit into the Jew or gentile category, you can receive the gospel of Jesus Christ! Why wouldn't you witness to someone? Did you know unsaved people are headed for a spiritual death? Of course you did, I mentioned that in my first point. Think of it this way; if you saw someone about to commit suicide, would you not try to stop them? You see someone on top of a roof getting ready to jump and its obvious once they make that jump, there is no turning back; they are going to die. Wouldn’t you try to talk them out of it regardless of who it was? I hope you would say yes! Some of you might say, well if it was a complete stranger, why would I care? Have you thought about the fact that if one of your family members or friends were about to commit suicide you would want someone to attempt to stop them? That complete stranger is someone’s brother, sister, mother, father, friend, whatever. They have family members that would hope someone else would step in and talk them out of killing themselves. In the same way unsaved people who are living ungodly lives apart from Christ are headed for hell and guess what; once they get there, there is no turning back. People are headed for hell, don’t you want to stop that? Don’t you want to influence someone to be saved? It doesn’t matter who they are, you do not want to see them die do you? Of course not! That is why we witness to everyone! Wouldn’t you tell that person on the roof there is so much to live for? Witnessing is the same way! People can live for Christ. This passage also explains how to be saved; believe; that’s it. There’s no special feat to be performed, believe: that’s confidence in the truth, or existence of something. If you believe in the gospel you will be saved. John 3:16 tells us that whoever believes in Jesus will inherit eternal life! So when you are witnessing you can tell about the simplicity of the reception of the gospel...believe in this and you will be saved. This is the simplest solution that you will ever face in life. You don’t go to work and your boss says “well since you showed up to work and you think you deserve money I’ll pay you.” That would be nice but no, you have required work to do. You can’t drive to a gas station and have the owner say “since you believe you need gas, go ahead and pump it in to your car.” Again, this would be nice but no, you must pay. Yet you come to Christ and he says “Since you believe in me you’re are saved.” It is not your job to work in hearts, it is your job to witness and be committed to witnessing. Remember, the Word that you share has power and truth that takes no complicated process to receive. The command is simple; believe.

So we are witnessing under God’s power, we’re witnessing to all because salvation is an open invitation, but what effect is the gospel supposed to have? Why is it worth telling? There must be an effect otherwise the gospel would be worthless right? What difference does it make?

 Christians must witness because the gospel’s effect is righteous living. The gospel enables us to live righteously by faith. What does it mean to live righteously? It means acting in accord with divine or moral law; being free from sin. We can live in such a way that we choose good over evil, we choose not to sin! The other half of this equation is we live righteously by faith. What’s faith? Let’s look at Hebrews 11:1 for our definition; it’s the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. To simplify that, faith is being sure of our hope in the Lord and being convinced that God, though unseen, exists, and Jesus Christ died on the cross for us, even though it’s not an event that you can just go on youtube and search Jesus Christ, and see him being crucified. Quite frankly it would be tough to see, as some of you know from watching the Mel Gibson Film, “The Passion of the Christ,” and I don’t know that you would want too see the actual crucifixion. I want you to understand something here: it effects both sides, you and the person you are witnessing too. Notice the little phrase here “from faith to faith” in verse 17. This is a phrase that has baffled many interpreters and commentators. The most accurate definition, I believe, is that it takes faith both to witness and to receive the gospel. This faith only comes from living righteously by God’s standards. As we see at the end of verse 17, “The righteous will live by faith.” So what does it mean to live righteously; it means very simply obeying God and his Word. In this instance for the one who is witnessing it means obeying the command in  Matthew 28:19-20 to teach all nations. If we are witnessing we are being obedient to God, and we are living righteously because, by faith, we are believing that the Gospel has power, that it is true, and we are sharing it! We were made righteous the minute we became saved. Christ's sacrifice on the cross set us free, made us righteous, and it continues our entire lives. Be committed to living righteously!

So I’ve given you three reasons to witness from this passage. Many of you till now have not been committed to witnessing because you just don’t trust you will know what to say. I’m not judging you for that!! God is very forgiving, so let that give you peace. So now what? Ok, study the scriptures, but you must trust that the gospel has power, and it’s not your words that save, but the power of God. Others of you just don’t know who to witness to, but you learned that you need to witness to everyone you come in contact with. Still others of you just saw no value in witnessing but you know now that it is a command in Scripture and to not witness is a lack of obedience and therefore a lack of love for God and for others. So, live righteously by witnessing to all because the power of God will save men! Let me just wrap up by saying this; witnessing doesn’t come naturally to most people. You have to train for effective witnessing, just like an athlete has to be trained to play a sport. It takes practice. Here’s the good news; you have the enablement of the Holy Spirit, the power of God! Behind every good athlete is a good coach, behind the effective testimony for Christ, is what; a knowledge of the Word and reliance on the strength of Christ. You’re out of excuses. Be committed to witnessing. The chancellor of Bob Jones University, Dr. Bob Jones III, says, “the most sobering reality in the world today is that people are dying and going to hell today.” Are you going to stand idly by as others who are facing the same fate that you were before you were saved, stand at the entrance to the gate of hell, or are you going to witness and allow yourself to be used of God to bring people to heaven’s gate? Witness for Christ. When you do that righteous living will naturally be falling into place. You’ll be obedient to Christ. As you see people being saved, you will be filled with joy, and you will want to please Christ even more! That should motivate you to want to live righteously. Righteous living and witnessing must go together! Witness, and be committed to righteous living;