What’s Next On Our Horizon? – Part I

Dear Friends and Family,

Many of you have been praying for us, some for years, regarding our next step in life. For me (Jeremiah), the 13 years I have dedicated to patient care, while being rewarding, has ultimately felt like a season of discipline, bringing fruits of reproof, instruction and training for my life. Thus, for those of you who know us and have walked with us on our journey, you know that we have been prayerfully seeking for me to give up my nursing career in hopes of pursuing something that will better suit my gifting and natural aptitudes. This is the very reason we moved to Dallas in the Spring of 2006.

This Summer marks the 3rd anniversary of my graduation from Dallas Theological Seminary. Immediately after graduating I applied to various ministries but stopped applying as we expected the arrival of Hannah and then a year later William. From January 2014 through January 2015 I worked through Re:Generation, a 12 step recovery program where I grew in my faith and found recovery in Christ from anger, depression, fear of man, and more. Samantha also started Re:Generation in mid 2014 and will be completing her program at the end of June this year. It has been a great season of rest and growth for our family.

So this brings me to our present. Samantha and I have finally felt like it was an apt time to begin pursuing a career change. Dallas Seminary sent out my resume to various ministries and I interviewed with some, while getting numerous rejection letters. I wondered what God had in store for our family. With each letter I sensed God’s affirmation- like passing exit signs on a highway, knowing that those opportunities were not the correct exit to get us to our destination.

Samantha and I came to a fork on our journey where we had the opportunity to pursue church planting in the midwest or visit a moderately sized church in a rural area. We visited both, and just like knowing that we could go left or right on the road, we believe that we have turned in the right direction going down a road that we anticipate will bring a great adventure and wonderful sights of God’s grace on our journey. So as we look out our vehicle of faith and trust that He is carrying us on our journey, many of you have wondered and asked, “What is next on your horizon?” What is it we see when we peer out the windows of faith and stare into the vast expanse that is in front of our lives?

If you would like to look through our window of faith and see what we see on the horizon, please click here.

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Why my Dad is my hero

A pic of US 35N on my way in to work this morning

This morning I woke up to 4 inches of snow that blanketed frozen rain on the ground. I started the truck first thing and then took a shower and got ready for the day. It was a long drive to work. I planned on taking double the time to make my normal drive here in Dallas. As a Michigan native, I am familiar with these kinds of conditions, yet when I drive here in this city, my fear mainly comes because of other drivers who only see these conditions one or two days a year and try to be a cowboy and brave the elements.

So, there was plently of time to think on the way in. I listened to the radio- mostly- but there were times when my heart raced as a pickup in front of me went sideways, or when I saw an 18 wheeler in the ditch. I kept saying to myself, my goal is to get there safely, not to get there quickly.

(This helped me to be patient as I thought of my wife and kids back at home. 2 of my children currenlty are battling the flu. I know that more than getting to a destination expediently, they eventually need me back home. So I was extra careful on my way in.)

As my tires rumbled over the chunky and icy ground, there were also times when my mind warped back decades in time. I recalled as a kid seeing my dad leave out the door every morning in the winter so that he could provide for us. I remembered one time when he was in a car accident on his way to work. He was driving a car that had recenlty been given to us by a family member. It was a total loss. But God provided another vehicle for us.

I also remember the many times my dad went under our trailer and took a heater, or heat tape or a hair dryer to thaw or water lines in the subzero weather. While I didn’t understand the signifance of that back then, as I look back now, I can have a greater appreciation of the amazing things my dad did to take care of our family.

At one point of time, I would have never thought of calling my dad a hero. As a child I did not understand our poverty. I was often bitter because we couldn’t afford the name brand clothing or food. I despised that we lived on government subsidies. I was humiliated by our living conditions. I was hurt often by the fighting and anger I saw in or home. Those memories will never leave. But they don’t have the same bite that they once had.

I kept driving. My mind kept wandering. My instincts were heightened as that pickup truck in front of me turned sideways. I was far back enough where I could slow down and go around and avoided the vehicle. Moments like these can be defining. I became more eager to make it to my destination safely, looking forward to working hard today and getting back to my family who needs me.

After I got to another point, the vehicles around me disappeared. There was a long stretch of road before I saw another vehicle. My mind went back to where it left off. I remember at an early age how my dad, even though he struggled with anger that I despised, always took care of us spiritually.

We were always in church- Sunday morning and evening and Wednesday. There were times he attempted doing devotions with us as a family. I remember those moments. My most vivid spiritual memory with my father was when he led my brother Tim to Jesus. I too knew that I was a sinner and wanted to be saved. So that day, as a 5 year old boy, I knelt at my bedside with my dad and confessed my sin to my Father in heaven and asked Jesus to come into my heart.

It was the best I knew how then to commit my life to Christ. That moment was a defining moment in my life. It has shaped how I view every aspect of my life. It has kept me from numbing my pain with sexual sins, alcohol, drugs, social life, technology, and whatever other idols I could have made. That decision has helped me to constantly return to Jesus when I have tried to find life in other places. That decision ultimately is what has helped me to forgive my dad and others who have harmed me over the years.

(I can still remember my dad weeping at my bedside, running his fingers through my brown childish hair one night because his heart was torn from the way that he constantly struggled with losing his temper. He hated his sin that he had difficulty controlling.)

As I pressed on toward my destination, I thought about heroes. I certainly did not want to be driving to work so early in the morning, especially as I was up several times last night helping my own son manage his symptoms of the flu, and knowing my wife would be home caring for both he and my oldest daughter who is sick with the same.

But I remembered how my dad was always faithful to do what it took to care for his family. I also thought of all the people who I may be serving today, how God would use me, like he used my own father, to be a light to others. So I kept driving. And I thought about all my dad did for me, and all he has done for others. And it dawned on me like never before what a hero my dad has always been.

Finding the Way When Your Marriage Is Broken

When I was in college, one summer I spent several weeks doing door to door book sales in Tennessee with my friend. After some time, I decided that gig wasn’t for me. I headed back home to Michigan and was driving through the night.

After several hours on the road, it was dark and I found myself going around a loop in Indianapolis. I took an exit to get oriented because I recognized that somewhere I took a wrong turn. I found myself in a broken neighborhood where there were boarded up houses. I kept driving and it seemed like I would never escape this city as I hit every red light. 

After about nearly an hour, I finally figured out my bearings and got back on track. While I grew frustrated with my situation, I came to the point where I admitted that I had made a navigational error. I eventually took the time to evaluate my situation, and to seek the guidance of the map (pre GPS and iPhone days). Then I followed its instructions and made my way back home safely.

Reflecting back on this little experience has reminded me of the simplicity of the Gospel and the power it has in my life and marriage.

Sometimes we find that our marriage is not on the path we planned when we said until death do us part. Whether we have developed bad habits, undisciplined lifestyles, poor communication, financial hardship, or whatever it is, we can easily become discontented with our spouse. Suddenly, our marriage is not in a place we anticipated going when we said I do.

Those frustrations are the first warning signs that your marriage is going down the wrong path. You are quickly headed to a destination that will bring you great pain if something does not change.

The Good News is that if you find yourself lost in your marriage, know that you can arrive safely to the Ever After that you always dreamed of.

When Mark wrote his Gospel, Israel was not in a good place. She too was lost as ever. Stripped of her prosperity and security in her land, over the centuries she was raped and pillaged by the powerful nations of her day. Where was God? What happened to His promises? Was God’s relationship with His people over?

Mark writes to Israel in order to encourage them. To let them know that God sees them circling the dark streets of their “Indianapolis.” To let them know that all is not over.

In fact, His love for them was about to shine greater than ever.In Mark 1, Mark is acting like a GPS when he writes of everyone from Jerusalem and Judea repenting and being baptized. Baptism and repentance were on the road map to get back to the Promised Land. The Messiah was near, and Israel’s relationship with God would change forever.

Looking at the map ultimately would lead Israel to Jesus Messiah, and Israel’s road home would be found in the person of Jesus Christ. The same is true for our marriages today.

If you have woken up recently and found yourself in the darkness and isolation of a broken marriage that you just cannot seem to fix, know that there is hope for you. This hope is ultimately found when both you and your partner fix your eyes on Christ and submit your will to His.

Both you and your partner must resign to allow Christ to be King. Turning to Jesus is your first turn to navigating your way back home to a healthy marriage that is intoxicating with love.

The truth is that eventually we all come to signs that tell us we are not where we should be. We all know when we are not loving our spouses well. We know when we have lived deeply in selfishness and isolation in our marriage.

The problem with your marriage is not your marriage. The problem in your marriage is the sinfulness of two individuals who have selfish hearts that wander and go astray. That is what leads the relationship down roads of brokenness.

When we find ourselves on that road, the tragedy would be to quit driving altogether. The tragedy would be to keep driving down the same path that led us to where we are. The worse tragedy would be to look at the map and then ignore its instructions. But sadly these reactions are what many of us do when the joy and blessing of a wonderful marriage is within reach.

For me to get back home that dark night in Indianapolis, I had to read the map, compare it to where I was located, and start doing what it said. This is what Israel had to do. This is what we all have to do in our marriages today.

In my own marriage, my wife and I are continually finding hope when we too repent and turn back to Christ after making decisions that have caused us great pain.I have personally witnessed the testimonies of marriages once broken by evil- even as dark as multiple affairs and sexual addictions- that are now thriving and impacting other marriages with a message of hope found in Jesus Christ.

How are you doing? Have you made decisions that have wreaked havoc on your relationship with your spouse? Or perhaps, are you looking to get beyond pain that your loved one may have inflicted on you?

Your path to healing begins with Christ who loves you unconditionally- when you buy in to the fact that He is working in your midst, even when you cannot see beyond the darkness of the storm in your life. It begins by experiencing that gracious love and then ultimately pouring it out on your spouse.

Loving your spouse when you are on a broken road might mean seeking guidance and starting to make decisions that will bring life to your marriage. Or  admitting where you are wrong. It might mean saying, “I’m sorry. I hurt you when _____. In the future, I will ______. Will you please forgive me?” Your destination to a healthy marriage is in sight. Are you willing to do what it takes to get there?

Saved: Delivered

My recent schedule is going to make it difficult to blog/ journal consistently, but I am going to give it my best shot. Today, I have found myself in Numbers 10 vs. 9, “When you go to war in your land against the adversary who attacks  you, then you shall sound an alarm with the trumpets, that you may be remembered  before the LORD your God, and be saved from your enemies.”  There were different signals that were announced through the horn. In this case, God is telling Israel what she must do in order to be delivered from the hands of her enemies. When the horn was sounded, Israel would be called to arms to prepare for battle and prepared to fight. Israel’s salvation required commitment to warring against the enemy.

How this relates to our salvation today:

  • When we speak of salvation we are often talking about our deliverance from sin. Some of the greatest stories we know of is when God has delivered someone from bondage. I have two friends who have lost over 100 lbs. each. They were ensnared by an addiction to food. Part of the freedom that God brought to them when they submitted their life to Him was from the enemy of gluttony and lack of self control.
  • Just as Israel was required to sound the horn in order to be victorious over her enemies, so also are we called to arms to fight against sin. I have wondered at times why I cannot get past certain hangups in my life. One of my most recent struggles has been with anger. But I have sounded the horn in my life by bringing my sin to the light. Over the past year I have worked  a 12 step discipleship program where God has helped bring me freedom from the rage that used to define me. Sounding the horn to battle against our enemies means getting accountability and confessing our struggle to another so that we can be healed.
  • Our willingness to sound the horn directly corresponds to our salvation. Sounding the horn is not a “work” that saves us, but rather, it is a means of grace that God gives us to see us through in our salvation. We must practice taking up spiritual arms if we are going to be delivered from sin. It is essential to the Christian life. If we refuse to be in the light, then that means we remain in darkness and that the light is not in us. If we have not taken up the armor of God, and if we continue to succumb to the attack of the enemy, crumbling to our captors in life, then we really aren’t free, are we? And if that is the case, then we are slaves to someone or something else other than our Creator, and that will have eternal consequences.
  • Confession to another the exact nature of our sin is the sounding horn that frees us from the grasp of the enemy. Overcoming the enemy requires steadfastness and lasting commitment to “sound the horn” when we are faced with the choice to sin. When a believer says, I am full of lust, or when he says, I fear man, or I self loathe, or I am an addict, it disarms the enemy by bringing the believer into the light. Confession is agreeing with God about the condition of your life. It is the coming out of hiding from a God who already knows where you are so that he can clothe you in His truth and righteousness that says, “You are forgiven. You are loved. You are mine. You are made in my image. You are an overcomer. You are redeemed. You are a child of the King.”

You want to live a life of freedom from the enemy? I do. May our salvation find strength in the God given grace of confession as we sound the horn to bring us to battle against our enemy.

Saved: to spare

This morning, I continued my search on the use of the term “salvation.” I feel a little overwhelmed thinking about how to organize this study. For instance, this morning, the next result on “saved” landed me in Genesis 47. In this passage, we are led to the account of Israel and his family living in the land of Egypt during a time of famine.

Things had become so severe in Egypt that every Egyptian had exhausted all their money to buy food from Joseph; they had exchanged all their livestock for food; and they had sold all their land and became servants of the government. Consequently, this landed the people of Egypt in a situation where they were forced to permanently pay 20% of their income (produce) to Pharaoh’s household. Yet, in the end the people did not starve to death. Thus, we read in vs. 25, “So they said, ‘You have saved our lives! Let us find favor in the sight of my lord, and we will be Pharaoh’s slaves.”‘

Again, in this passage, the usage of salvation has the nuance of “to spare.” The people’s lives were physically spared because they were given food during a time of famine. At this point, I think I will continue to study the term salvation. I think it will be better to include multiple verses in one blog entry if I were to try and cover every time the term was used.

The next passage I came across is found in Exodus 14. Now, judging by the book, you might be able to guess this is going to refer to the famous Exodus of Israel from Egypt after more than 400 years of slavery there. And that is correct. The story is famous, so I don’t need to spend a lot of time describing it.

We read in vs. 30, “Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore.” It is clear in this passage that the term is suggesting the idea of rescue.

Israel had been in bondage for a remarkable amount of time. They had the far threat of continued slavery if they did not leave. Hebrews were slaves to the demands of Egypt and were unable to freely live and worship in the way that God created for His people. Israel had the near threat of death by a Pharaoh in pursuit and starvation and natural elements in the desert ahead of them. Yet, the God of salvation dramatically rescued His people.

What is wonderful about this Epic is that it includes a rich portrayal of theological ideas throughout the flight from Egypt. In this rescue, God requires blood sacrifice of a perfect lamb and a celebration– the first Feast of Unleavened Bread. The blood had to be painted over the doorways for the Passover. One of the greatest pictures of redemption, salvation where God judged the firstborn who was not covered by an act of faith by the covering of the blood.  And finally, there was the Exodus. People had to gather their stuff and prepare to leave. They were expelled. The people left Egypt. They had to leave behind the life of slavery they knew and to walk an uncertain path toward freedom.

How this relates to our salvation today:images

  • Today we like to throw around the term “saved” in our church circles. We might ask, “When were you saved?” Or we might state, “I was saved when…” It is important to have a time to look back and to have definitive moment when we saw God intervening in our life and we decided to admit that we are powerless to overcome our addictions and sin on our own, believe that God is the one whose power will help us overcome, and to trust Him with our will and lives. Salvation is in fact a rescue.
  • Salvation in the sense that we use it in our church setting does in fact indicate that we have been rescued from our bondage to sin. Our salvation story isn’t just that “God saved me from my sins,” that we might have heard uttered from believers over the years but rather, “I am a wicked and vile person in my own flesh. No matter what I try to do to overcome my sinfulness, I am unable to succeed. I cannot help but tell you about when God intervened in my life so dramatically and rescued me from a life that left wreckage and carnage behind in the lives around me. My life is nothing short of a miracle from Christ.”
  • Our rescue from God is just, no matter how exceedingly sinful I might have been before I was rescued. While God passed over my sin so that I might not feel the weight of His wrath, my sin itself was not passed over because He fully poured out His wrath for the weight of my sins- past, present, and future. The wonder of it all is that it was poured out on Christ instead of me, which is the greatest of all grace that I will know in this life. Salvation, while it is a gift to me, is not free. It is more precious than a pearl of great price or a treasure of great value hidden deep in a field that has been stumbled upon. Our rescue has been purchased with blood.
  • In salvation, some will come kicking and screaming because God has literally pulled them away from the apple of their eye that has poisoned them for the years. Their sick hearts will fight against fully killing off the sick fruit that has grown in their lives. Others will go freely and quickly toward freedom because the misery of their bondage has prepared them fully to be free. Their cries have been heard by God and when he prepares the way, they run to Him joyfully stomping out the  roots of sin that have tormented them, and doing so with great fervor and passion. Regardless of our story, those who are saved will leave behind the old and put on the new.
  • Despite the grandeur of this magnificent salvation, God knows the frailty of our flesh and the need to be reminded of our past deliverance. It is inevitable that as we are expelled from our past life of sin, the deceitfulness of fleshly desire will tempt us to return to our Egypt. Thus, it is important, just as Israel celebrated the Feast of Booths, so also should we set aside regular moments to recall the expediency and magnificence of our rescue from the life that once held us captive. Taking time to worship our Rescuer will give us confidence in our uncertain path of freedom that God grants so that we can worship Him in spirit and in truth as we await for His return.

Saved: to Spare

This morning I made my first search on the term “saved.” I found over 231 verses with some form of the verb(s) used that mean something to the effect of “to save.”

painting1The earliest reference to saved that I can find is in Genesis 19:19 & 20. This surprised me since I would expect to find this term in Genesis 3 after Adam and Eve sinned or especially in Genesis 6 when God saved Noah. I would also expect to find this term in Genesis 12 when God spared Abraham from Pharaoh’s hands after Abraham lied about his relationship with Sarah his wife.

In Genesis 19, there are two messengers sent to Lot. The messengers warned lot about the impending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah for its wickedness. I am not sure how righteous Lot was in the land he lived that was filled with such wickedness. But we know his wife was more attracted to her lifestyle in Sodom than her life of rescue to the mountains. For that reason, she turned back and was turned into a pillar of salt.

Lot’s decisions in this passage, however, are dumbfounding. When the townsmen came after the messengers in Lot’s home, Lot offers his virgin daughters to them to appease their barbarism. I am not sure if there is any cultural information that we are missing that would explain this in any satisfying kind of way, but I am better satisfied just assuming that Lot’s mind was nearly as warped as the culture he lived.

At the last job I worked there was a sign that read, “If you witness an offense but do not report it, you are just as guilty as the offender.” We never want to be in a place were we live complacently with sin. We know that Lot and his wife were comfortable enough in the culture they lived, that they did not try to escape its sin. Lot’s wife gazed back at her lifestyle she was expected to leave behind. Consequently, she died in it.

But Lot was different. He ultimately went where the messengers instructed without gazing back. So, we have in vs. 19, “You have shown me lovingkindness by sparing my life.” And then in vs. 20, Lot petitions the messengers that he should flee to the small town of Zoar that as he states, “my life may be saved.”

In a word, this use of the term salvation connotes the idea of being spared. Lot wasn’t necessarily rescued. Though he was. This passage is emphasizing life that had been spared to Lot. Or, Lot’s life was spared. Also, Lot’s salvation was brought about by two messengers (Angels). God’s gratuitous gift (lovingkindness) was brought about by means of two people who warned Lot of the judgment to come. The messengers also gave the means of escape and Lot listened. The result of Lot’s decision was that his life was spared.

Notes about how this relates to salvation today:

  • When we speak of salvation today, we normally refer to our eternal state and deliverance from judgment and damnation for living in rebellion to God. While this is not directly what this current passage refers to, we know that the eternal life of those who trust in Christ will be spared because God’s justice was served on the cross, His wrath was satisfied and our sin was expiated (atoned for) allowing for the opportunity for God’s righteousness to justly live in those who walk with Him.
  • Second, there may be times in our life when God sends us people who warn us to leave the circumstance we are in so that we do not live under the judgment and experience the ultimate consequences that our decisions are rendering, which ultimately could be our death. For example, God continually warns the addict to flee from his destructive behavior. This is accomplished through messengers such as Christians who minister or even secular institutions who have common sense about choices and consequence. When one flees from his addiction in time, his life is spared.
  • Third, the Christ follower can say his life is spared because of the ministry of a disciple of Jesus who told him about the coming wrath and day of judgment, and that deliverance from the said wrath was possible by walking the path of faith and life in Christ. King Jesus will spare the one whose heart is loyal to him.
  • I picture it like living in a city that is in the land of the King. While the King has been away, I have at times lived in a way that is contrary to his law. But someone brought to my attention, “Hey dummy, the King is coming back. You might want to think about what you are doing or it will not go well with you.” Well, the King knows of my rebellion, and he has executed his judgment (I’m guilty). But because my heart and life turned back to His laws, His Kingdom, His people, His plans and His ways once I heard about the return of the King and was faced with the reality of my rebellion, God showed mercy on me and poured out His wrath on Christ instead of me (substitution) and was satisfied (expiation) and graciously has allowed me to serve Him and be in right relationship with Him again (salvation).
  • And when that happens with any of us who rebel against the King and turn back to Him, Scripture says that heaven rejoices. Our life is spared in this life (We might avoid sins that can lead to our destruction) and the one to come (We will enjoy life with Christ forever).

Wow! That’s not bad for day number one. I was highly encouraged by God’s word. Praise the Lord!

Saved

Recently, I was asked a question along the lines of “What does one need to know to be saved?” Or stated another way, “Can I know I am saved?” These questions were related to others that I have heard, “Who are the elect?” Or, again, “Does God choose us or do we choose God (sovereignty vs. freewill)? Is salvation secure?”

I am not entirely sure how to answer these questions. Not because I cannot walk someone through the Romans Road. Not because I haven’t been properly informed about soteriology. Not because I’ve never considered these questions before. Not because I don’t know how to answer these questions.

These questions are great questions. They are valid. They are essential to knowing if one has a proper understanding of the Faith. I’ve known about salvation since I can remember. I grew up in the church, went to a conservative Christian university, and graduated from two seminary programs. I can spit out these concepts and ideas like butter if I have to.

But I have several hangups in answering these questions. For starters, I do not want to categorize theological ideas about salvation into theological grids that didn’t really exist when scripture was written (Like sifting salvation through Calvinism or Arminianism or anything else). I also want to avoid pacifying an idea that if you “believe exactly like me and pray this prayer you can be in my religious club.” That seems far from what Jesus was going after when He said, “Follow me.” I also have yet to find an instance where Jesus invited others to “prayer a prayer after me” and “invite me into your heart” (However, I am not denying that such prayers can be valuable in today’s world that waits for His return).

Yet the ironic thing is that there are “house rules” when it comes to salvation. While salvation is free for all, it is not a “free for all” when it comes to what you believe and how you behave in God’s Kingdom. And while salvation is free for all, not all will receive what is a free gift of grace that came with a high price from Christ. There is a way to salvation. There is a way that leads to life. So, all this has challenged me to rediscover salvation.

I am not on a voyage to find another way to salvation. I am not journeying to see if I can be the first to discover an unknown secret that nobody else has yet found out about salvation in the Bible.  I am not trying to be edgy or to push the envelope on our sacred tradition. What I liken this to is rediscovering or revisiting a family vacation spot that hasn’t been visited in a while. Or better yet, remembering the first time I drove into the city I now live. Seeing it new again. Being reborn again into the faith.

Have I seen and understood everything correctly? Can I make new connections with God’s word that I have not yet seen before? Getting refreshed on what salvation is, who is involved, how the involved participate in salvation. What does salvation mean? How is the term salvation used in Scripture. Does this differ than how we view and use this concept in our church discourse today? If so, is the way we use it Biblical and accurate? Is it misled? Or wrong? Or just different than how the saints of Old used it, but OK?

So, this is the road I am traveling…you’re welcome to come if you want, to join in with your thoughts. This is the first post of a several part series. I plan to start with searching “salvation, saved, delivered, etc.” in my Bible and to go from there. I’ll plan on posting frequently as I discover God’s truth. I’m looking forward to an encouraging journey in faith and learning more about our Savior. This should be pretty amazing. Seriously, you should come too!

Turkey Day, Football & Ferguson: Which Side is God on?

This Thanksgiving is going to be bittersweet for many. Many will enjoy the festivities, parades, playing flag or touch football in the yard with family and friends and then watch their favorite teams battle it out on TV.  This was a big tradition in my family.

But during this Thanksgiving, many of us might have hearts of despair and bitterness. The announcement last night by the grand jury in Ferguson only further cemented perhaps decades or even generations of inequality and injustice in your life. You might wonder what there is to be thankful for. Why did God ignore my pain once again? Whose side is God on anyway?Riot police clear demonstrators from a street in Ferguson

I ask the question, which side is God on? because if God has a side, I ultimately want to be on His side. And I suspect that everyone else who loves Him desires to be on His side too. That’s a good question, but as stupid as this might sound, asking that question is a lot like asking the same question when your favorite sport team is playing their arch rival. It’s crazy because half of the debate about Ferguson thinks their side lost and half thinks their side won. Neither side won. It wasn’t even a draw. The truth is that the game is still being played and from where I’m sitting, it appears that both sides are losing.

Last night, I was disappointed at the reaction from certain leaders within the church and community- some of whom are friends of mine- as they expressed their support or grievance in the decision that the grand jury reached. There is something disturbing in the reaction that goes beyond the verdict of the jury. It is sickening to think that the decision to not indict this officer means that the case is closed and we can parade and move on. It is equally sickening in the presumption of the officer’s guilt to bring evil upon innocent by burning their belongings, destroying their businesses, and inciting retaliation birthed in hate.

We need to be clear about one thing: The fight for freedom and justice is not over. I cannot even say it has truly begun. Many churches and faithful saints were calling on God last night, pleading with Him before the verdict was announced. But if our prayers were cheering on an internal seed that was rooting for an announcement of “innocent” or “guilty” more than a cry for justice and truth to prevail, then we have prayed for this situation in the same manner that we pray for our football or basketball team to win on game night. And you are going to be disillusioned in your interpretation of last night’s verdict. You will not see clearly.

When I have prayed for my teams in the past, of course I have asked God to find favor on them and to allow them to win. Sometimes they won and sometimes they lost. But really, that is not a good prayer. Here’s why. First, assuming that God favors one side over another is also assuming that God does not love the opponent. And that is not true.

Even in God’s election and sovereign decisions, God loves everyone. His desire is for the peace and salvation and blessing of every person. He died for everyone. That is clear in Scripture, but my point is not about the theology of salvation. No matter whether your skin is black or white or red or yellow, God is for you. He is on your side. He is also on the side of that person who is different than you, whether it is because of skin color, affluence, sexual orientation or other sociological distinctions. No matter what you go through and no matter what the outcomes are when it comes to justice, God is for you. He died for you. This is the side He is on. Are you on His side?

If you are on God’s side, your feelings and emotions won’t be shaken in any court verdict. Being on God’s side means that you entrust all judgment to Him. It means that He knows better than you. It means that you will seek what He seeks. God’s side in not the side that is rooted in pride, but in humbly pursuing Gods pursuits, even when they do not agree with your thoughts.

For many Americans, whom God loves passionately, there was extreme fury and rage toward the conclusion of the Ferguson grand jury. If this is you, then you likely wonder how so many people in the jury got it so wrong. You might wonder, where is God in all of this? Does He not care about justice and equality? Does he hate me or my children? Some of you might have taken matters into your own hands – maybe you have rioted and looted in your own heart. Some of you might begin to doubt God’s goodness and love.

For many other Americans, whom God loves passionately, there was great elation and sense of justice and peace in your household because you believe that the system got it right. If this is you, then you probably have publicly affirmed the jury’s decision. You are also more affirmed in the sense of God’s justice and love for you. You might think God is for you and let this season pass without giving thought about anything else. Your position won. You won. You feel justified by what you believe to be true.

But the question remains, which side is God on? I sincerely believe that God did not side with the blacks or whites last night. He was not with the majority or minority. He just wasn’t. He was at a different game, at a different stadium, cheering on a different team. God’s team was you. God was with you. He was on your side. He was fighting for you.

God was on your side because:

  • He sent Jesus to die for your sins and all the injustice you have committed against Him and against others.
  • Jesus’ blood also covered the sins and injustice committed against you and your family and loved ones.
  • Satan the creator and propagator of injustice and inequality has been defeated through the resurrection of Jesus Christ and will one day be completely consumed in hell by the final judgment of God.
  • There will be a day in court when the record will be exposed before the eyes of witnesses. Justice will be served forever.
  • Through Jesus Christ your eternity can be full of life and infinite joy and peace.
  • You are created with significance and have been granted the authority by God to be an agent for His love and justice in our world right now.

Yes, God is on your side. He is cheering for team You. In Christ, you are his chosen ambassador to carry the torch of love, mercy, justice and truth (Micah 6:8; 2 Cor 5:17-21). You are the one who is also called to walk in the ease of his yolk (Matt. 11:30) by submitting your cares and concerns and injustices to Him (1 Pet 5:7; Psa. 55:22). Being on God’s side means that you entrust all judgment to Him. So what does this mean for you?

First, if your side won last night, you are called to do more than the customary pat on the butt and shaking of hands with the losing team that happens at the end of each game. It might be that justice prevailed last night in Ferguson. It might be that it was grossly denied in a way that makes the angels of heaven ready to storm the gates of hell.

There is no denying the injustice that happens on a daily basis to the African American community. My friend Marcus who is a respected physician grew up in a godly Christian home. His father is a pastor and his family loves Jesus. He is not a trouble maker. Yet, despite all his faithfulness and the faithfulness of his parents to raise a good home, he still faced terrible injustice and inequality in his life because of the color of his skin. He shared with me how he has been pulled over by police simply because he is black. He has been followed and harassed in ways that I will never know because my olive skin is considered to be an “acceptable” tone for society.

I’m a white man. But, I’m sure his story is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the torments of the minority. And if any person just shakes their hands and walks away from last night’s announcement and thinks everything is well, that person is severely misinformed or extremely naive.

Conversely, if your team “lost” last night I am begging and pleading with you to do more than utter an insincere “good game” that happens at the end of each game. Our country and culture needs for you to rise up and be the stronger team, the better team. We sincerely need it.

The team that God is on is rooted in humility and love, even in its pursuits of justice. Jesus was faithful to you and me even until the end of his ministry on earth. When Peter cut off the soldier’s ear, Jesus rebuked him and healed his “enemy.” Resolving to violence and anger against the innocent only affirms and solidifies the wrong and evil beliefs of racism that still permeate the fabrics of our nation.

If you were one who was calling on God last night, and if you have experienced His love for you, and if you claim the name of Jesus Christ, then you absolutely have the responsibility to love your enemy and to pray for those who mistreated you. When you follow Christ, when you claim his name, you lose the rights to yourself. This is the hardest lesson to learn, the most difficult path to follow. Last’s nights issue is not a racial issue as much as it is a spiritual issue. Are we brave enough to sign up to be on God’s team? Are we willing to join his roster?

If you want God to be on your side, then you need to be on his side. I will know, the world will know, you will know God is on your side when you love like he loves. It is up to you and me. There has to come a point where you reach out to your enemy and love them like Christ loved you.

In our community, this means that community servants like police officers and leaders of justice passionately uphold the law and compassionately represent the afflicted- no matter the color of skin. It means that education and resources continue to be freely administered to free those who are seeking relief from their injustice. I have no problem with social services when they are administered with love and responsibility.

In our community it also means that the afflicted free themselves by forgiving those who mistreat them. The greatest way to win a man is by loving him. This might sound ridiculous but if the African American community lovingly reached out to the white man with love, it would go a long way in dissolving negative feelings and racism that pervade parts of this community. White communities should reject the temptation to simply move on and instead intentionally reach out to minorities.  We love Him because He first loved us (1 Jo 4:19; Rom 5:6, 8). Enemies are crushed by love.

Racism will only be defeated by love- not retaliation. Not public policy. Not the outcome of court cases. Not by increasing entitlements. Only by love. So, as a white person, who has really done the black community no harm, but as one who has even served the black community in some of the most underserved and unloved areas in our country, I am asking you to forgive my whiteness. Forgive me. I am on your team. I am on your side. You are my brother and sister in Christ.

I need you to reach out to me and to not retaliate. Be the greater person. Speak out against the violence and retaliation we are witnessing. You will change this world. You will conquer the lie of racism. Reach out to me.

Even so, I will reach out to you. I will receive you. I will care for you. I will love you. I will fight with you and for you for truth and love in our society. I need this from you. The game clock is ticking. We are both losing when we are against each other. It is Thanksgiving and I want our team to win. We are on the same team. Can we fight for love and freedom together? Don’t come to “my side.” Let us go together to His side during this Thanksgiving. And know that I am praying for you and walking with you through this season as best as I know how. May our team win!

Overcoming Financial Anxiety: I have recently been reminded that…

Moving forward in the right direction in life is more than writing a list of goals and pursuing them. It’s also a lot less than the weight of making hasty decisions and suffering from the burden of trying to control your destiny. It is more of a matter of cooperating with God.121748_2905

What do you mean by cooperate? Cooperation carries the idea of working together- much like that of moving a bike in a certain direction. Our relationship of cooperating with God is much like the relationship between the chain and sprockets that make a bike move. God moves the pedals and turns the handle bars. That is the kind of picture we need to see when we think of cooperating with God when we make decisions in life. While God is fully capable of making a bike move without us, for some reason He has chosen to allow us to participate with him in His work.

I reject the view that we alone create our own destiny. I also reject the view of fatalism. Scripture is clear that God is sovereign. Scripture is also clear that we’re responsible for the decisions we make. God gave Adam responsibilities in the Garden. We’ll all be held accountable for the decisions we make with God’s resources. The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. That means we will be held to account for what we do with everything we have and the influence we’ve been given.

In the last several months our family has been working through a career transition that will probably take several more months to complete. In July, I worked my last day as a full time staff nurse. I’m not refusing to ever work as a nurse again, but so long as God provides in other ways, there will be no need to return down that path.

For 11 years I worked as a nurse, primarily specializing in heart care. My first job was in a cardiac step down critical care unit where I received post op heart bypass surgery patients among others. I worked vigorously in the job to care for patients going to cath lab and coming back from cath lab where they might have received a stent. Since then I had worked my way into the cardiac cath lab itself. But along the whole path, my focus was primarily on the heart.

Today, I’m working as a contractor completing various remodeling projects. This is a job that I have much greater satisfaction in. It provides physical exercise, an avenue to burn off stress, an artistic and creative outlet, and the gratification of seeing my finished product. I enjoy this work, but I don’t sense that I will do it the rest of my life. Last week, the Lord was showing me how He is using this season to condition my own heart as I must trust Him to provide for our family from job to job.

While I’m being diligent to advertise my work, I literally must rely on Him to give me more work for the next week so that I can pay our bills. This is no easy task.

When bills need to be paid and there is not enough work, it is difficult to understand and believe Jesus’ words, “My yolk is easy and my burden is light…” But since last week, God has been helping me understand a little more of what it means to find provision from God. It all started when a friend and I started doing book studies in the Bible. We started in Obadiah but are now in Mark. I’m in chapter 1 and my friend is way ahead! But that’s ok. I am trying to soak in this stuff like a sponge.

Before I go on about what God is teaching me, I just wanted to mention that my goal career change is not to contracting. My prayer is to return back to heart care, but less on the physical side and more on the spiritual side. I’m working toward spending my life in full time vocational ministry. That is where I believe, along with those who know me best, I can best utilize my gifts and be obedient to my calling in life. But regardless if I ever get there, before this transition is complete, I need to learn this one lesson: how to cooperate with God to provide.

There have been times when I have “trusted God” to provide. That is, my anxieties calmed when provision was made. That is not necessarily trust. Trusting God is evident in your life when you experience peace and confidence in God knowing that He loves you and will give you what is best for your life. This attitude transcends your economic situation which literally fluctuates moment to moment. The kind of trust I’m talking about comes from cooperating with God to provide. What does this look like?

One of the greatest pictures of trust in Scripture is actually found in the gospels. It is when Jesus goes out to the wilderness among the beasts where he is tempted by Satan.

When I was reading this passage in Mark 1, I wondered how it was relevant to me. At this point in time, Jesus had been baptized by John. He was driven to the wilderness by the Spirit of God. Jesus had not yet began his earthly ministry as an evangelist and before launching his ministry, Jesus went to boot camp where he trusted God to provide for his needs.

This verse hits home greatest in verse 13 where it says, “He was in the wilderness forty daysenduring temptations from SatanHe was with wild animalsand angels were ministering to his needs.” In order for Jesus to do what he did, He must have really trusted the Father.

Here is what we can learn from this passage about how to cooperate with God to provide. First let’s observe what cooperation is not:

  • Following your own will or desire (Jesus went where the Spirit drove Him)
  • Being free of conflict (Jesus experienced critical physical, emotional and spiritual needs)
  • Escaping suffering (Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days)
  • Putting yourself in a place of safety (Jesus was among the beasts)
  • Freedom from temptation (Jesus was tempted by Satan)
  • Having an attitude of independence from God- one that says I can do this on my own (Jesus was ministered to by angels)

Second, let’s take a look at what cooperation with God looks like in this passage. Cooperation:

  • Endures suffering when required (Jesus stayed in the wilderness throughout the 40 days God put Him there)
  • Requires an attitude of dependence on God (Jesus accepted the ministry of angels)
  • Makes decisions that carry emotions and not vice versa (Jesus was hungry for 40 days and did not fall into temptation)
  • Breeds confidence in God throughout times of need (Jesus went where he was driven and he did not fear or flee from his environment or trouble)
  • Looks beyond immediate gratification (Jesus endured the temptations of Satan)
  • Receives its provision from God (Jesus was ministered to by angels)

This is the kind of cooperation with God that will provide for any kind of situation. Worry, anxiety, fear, depression, numbing yourself with chemicals or other forms of addictions are all signs that you are rejecting God’s provision for your life. It means that you’re trying to carry the load on your own. That kind of lifestyle will wear you out.

In some ways nursing became an idol in my life, which is ironic because I despised the stress and level of commitment it required. I hated the long shifts. I felt that in nearly every place I worked, nursing staff was terribly managed. I didn’t like being required to be away from my family during the holiday seasons. I didn’t particularly enjoy the stress of impatient doctors or rude or demanding family members. But there was no greater privilege than to care for the patient. God drove me into nursing each day I went to work so that I would learn to love His people in their greatest hour of need. That was amazing. So I didn’t just quit.

Yet, I found myself needing to quit because I knew that ultimately I was staying there for the comfort of a salary that was regular and safe. I knew that God had gifted me in other ways and that the stress I endured each day was unhealthy for me. I gained weight. My blood pressure was high. My stomach was constantly in knots from fear of making a mistake that would bring someone harm or cost me my job. It was not for me. I wasn’t created to do it for the long haul.

Yet again, how could I walk away from my sole source of income? How could I throw away the dough to make the bread on my table? It was a matter of cooperating with God. I endured suffering in a noble profession for 11 years. I had to constantly depend on God to be free from harming others. And eventually that same trust had to guide me out of nursing.

Now, I depend on the Lord for work in a job that I haven’t done long. I have to look beyond the temptation when work is plenty to try to accumulate wealth for my own gratification. I also must fight beyond my immediate emotions that say to quit and go back to nursing when work is not readily available. I’m trusting that He will see me through this season and I can find great joy and peace during this time of transition as I move toward a new career where I care for the spiritual lives of God’s people.

Cooperation with God financially means that I’m being responsible to pursue avenues of income for my family. It means that I maintain a steadfast spirit when my next job is not immediately in front of me. It also means that I’m a wise steward with the resources I have. Am I blowing our money without discretion? Am I accumulating debt by spending beyond my means? Am I charging a fair amount for the jobs I do have? Am I tithing back a portion to the Lord with a heart of gratitude for the blessings He gives? These are the things I will be accountable for. Being faithful in these areas are how I cooperate with God as he provides the resources I need.

Cooperating with God will take you places. The reality is that while we might operate like the chain and sprocket on a bike, God is really the one who takes us places. But if we don’t operate the way we should, we aren’t going to get far down the road, or we might cause a lot of unnecessary loss or damage along the way. But if we work together with God by operating the way we should, we are up for an amazing adventure. We might experience gruesome hills or deep valleys, but we can rest assured that we’ll go farther and do more with our life with greater meaning if we do it in a way that cooperates with God.

A Small Book of the Bible with a Great Lesson

Hi again! Wow. It has been nearly 2 years since I have blogged. My last official post was on November 24 of 2012! Where in the world have I been? Since I have blogged last I have worked in the Cath Lab at Parkland Memorial Hospital. It was one of the greatest experiences of my nursing career for many reasons, which I’ll probably eventually mention in future posts at some point. My attitude toward my experience there is gratitude toward Parkland and my leaders and peers.

When all was said and done at Parkland in July of 2014, I finally took a leap of faith and jumped out of nursing altogether. In the past 2 years I have candidated on and off for pastoral ministry, and I am increasingly thankful that nothing has come about yet. The reason is that in January of 2014 I started Re:Generation® at our church Watermark Community Church in Dallas.

While at Re:Generation I have learned a lot about myself, the incredible grace of God and have begun to find recovery in Christ from anger, pride, fear of man, and distrust in God. My career change came at a climax where I was finally buying into the fact that God is good and He has my best interests at heart. So I trusted Him and stopped doing a career that became an idol (which is weird because I loathed the stress that it caused!), and I started doing contracting in the construction world (which forces me to rely on the Lord for provisions for my family).

So, without further adieu my first post in nearly 2 years…

This past year my wife and I joined a small group were we have had the opportunity to share life together in a deeper way with some great folks. It has been time of relational growth, and during the past several weeks one of the guys and I challenged each other with doing a book study from the Bible. So where would we start? We started with something simple like Obadiah.

The Transformation

Over the past 10 days or so I have read through this book multiple times (It is only twenty something verses long). Over the course of that time it has gone from a remote sealed off “sticky page” in my Bible to a life lesson of grace. I admit, when I first read it the first few times, I could only think this books is kind of lame. Why is it here? How am I supposed to connect with this? But after the first few stabs at reading it and doing some research, I finally took some ground.

Background Info

Obadiah means “Servant of Yahweh.” Nobody really knows who this servant was. The message of Obadiah was to serve the people of Edom and Israel. The message of Obadiah was one of warning to Edom. Edomites were descendants of Esau. They lived in the clefts of the rocky sandstone south of the Dead Sea. Over the centuries between Jacob and Esau’s quarrel and the time of this oracle, the Edomites and Israelites developed quite a rivalry rooted in bitterness. Just search “Edom” in Scripture and you will find the many times they tormented each other over the years.

The Problem

As you read this short letter, you will find the answer to a question presented in Scripture from the very beginning, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” That question was posed way back in Genesis 4 and the answer to that question was “Yes.” You will also find an illustration of the consequences to continued neglect of broken familial relationships as they spin out of control when left unattended.

Things were not going to go well with Edom. They were coming under the judgment of Yahweh for crimes against his people. The problem is plainly stated in Obadiah 1:10. Edom violently slaughtered God’s people. What did that slaughter look like?

  • They stood aloof and pretended not to know anything when their brother Israel was getting slaughtered by Babylon (vs.  11). There was a sign where I worked that basically said if you witnessed an event but did not report it then you are guilty in committing it.
  • Edom exploited Israel’s injury by casting lots over the spoils of war (vs. 11). They kicked someone who was already down. They robbed someone who had been raped.
  • Edom rejoiced in the suffering of God’s people (vs. 12). One of my favorite things to see in sports rivalry is for a rivaled team to lose, especially if they have beat my team. It is extremely gratifying. But rejoicing in evil against another human is intolerable in God’s eyes. We are all made in His image.
  • Edom encouraged Israel’s suffering by participating in her destruction (vs 14). Edom blockaded roads to the south of Israel and prevented refugees from entering their Land, thereby sealing off their doom. Edom also took the weak as slaves.

The Consequence

In a nutshell, the consequence to sin is judgment. God’s justice will finally fall against those who rebel against Him and His people (vss. 15-21). And that is what we all really want right? Justice. Many critics of Scripture see God as a mean old pie in the sky who is a bloodthirsty maniac. That is a lie from Satan. The truth is that there is great relief when justice is executed. When a referee throws a flag against a player whose penalty hurt your team, there is greajusticet relief- especially if it is a game changer. Even more so, if your human rights have been violated, there is satisfaction and relief when a judge and jury arrive to the correct verdict and apply the appropriate sentence. How much more so is the satisfaction that comes when God executes evil! The result is that the Lord will reign as King (vs. 21).

Bringing it Home

So how do we take something so far and bring it near? The lesson is to pursue reconciliation with those we are at odds with and with God. We are our brother’s keeper. God will hold us to account for our relationships with others. Have you ever taken joy or smiled on the inside when someone who has hurt you falls? Have you ever pretended not to notice when someone you don’t like is violated? Have you ever personally retaliated against someone who has hurt you? I think we are all guilty of all of these in some sort of way if we are honest. When we are hurt by another, our most natural response is to retaliate against our wrongdoer. But God is calling us to do something different.

God wants us to do what is supernatural. Jesus made clear that we are to love our enemies and to pray for those who mistreat us. He is willing that none should perish but that all should come to repentance. In the world that we live, our greatest enemy is ourself and our failure to do what God is calling us to do- to make peace with our enemies. Executing justice is only half of the equation. There is a place for justice. But there is also a place for mercy for those who respond to God’s justice with repentance and change of heart. After all, that is what God has done with us in Jesus Christ.

Is there someone in your life you are at odds with? Who do you need to reconcile with today?